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Sibyl Collins Wilson

lawyer, State Supreme Court Justice, mayor of Detroit, Michigan, and president of the American Bar Association, was born in Detroit to Ernest and Frances Archer, and was raised in Cassopolis, Michigan. Determined to raise himself from poverty, and encouraged by his parents to value education, Archer was steadfast in his studies. He graduated from Cassopolis High School in 1959 and entered Western Michigan University that fall. While attending Western Michigan he pledged Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, the first black collegiate fraternal organization. He graduated in 1965.

Archer had a desire to teach, so he relocated to Detroit and took a position in the Detroit schools teaching and assisting emotionally disturbed students. He met Trudy Duncombe, another young teacher, during this tenure, and they married on 17 June 1967 Although dedicated to education Archer began to prepare himself for another level of public service when he entered ...

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Robert Fikes

mayor and educator, was born in rural Livingston, Alabama, to Richard Arrington Sr. and Ernestine Bell, sharecroppers. In 1940, when his father found work in a steel mill, the family moved to Fairfield, a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama. At Fairfield Industrial High School, Arrington took an interest in the study of history and also learned dry cleaning, a practical skill that he later used to finance his college education. In 1952, during his sophomore year at Miles College in Birmingham, he married his high school sweetheart, the former Barbara Jean Watts. Two influential professors persuaded him to major in biology, and he graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1955. He went on to earn his master's degree in Biology in 1957 at the University of Detroit and in 1966 completed his PhD dissertation Comparative Morphology of Some Dryopoid Beetles at the University of Oklahoma ...

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John R. Wennersten

civil rights activist, mayor, and city councilman. For more than two decades Marion Barry as a political leader of Washington, D.C., epitomized all that is good and bad about the politics of the urban South.

Born in Itta Bena, Mississippi, to a father who was a sharecropper and a mother who was a domestic, Marion Shepilov Barry was raised near Memphis, Tennessee, and experienced the twin hardships of poverty and segregation in the post–World War II South. He graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1954 and went on to earn a bachelor's degree at Memphis's LeMoyne College in 1958 and a master's degree in chemistry at Fisk University in Nashville in 1960. While a college student Barry led a well-publicized effort to force a white LeMoyne College trustee to retract disparaging remarks that he made about blacks during a Memphis bus-desegregation campaign.

Increasingly involved in the civil ...

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Marion Barry's 1994 election to a fourth term as mayor of Washington, D.C., three years after his conviction for cocaine possession, was just another twist in the turbulent career of the sharecropper's son from the Mississippi Delta. Born near the small town of Itta Bena, Mississippi, Barry moved to Memphis, Tennessee, at the age of five. Barry grew up amid poverty, segregation, and racism. Despite these circumstances, he excelled academically and became the first member of his family to attend college. At LeMoyne College, a racially mixed institution in Memphis, Barry joined the campus chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), becoming its president in his senior year.

Barry received his bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1958 and that fall began postgraduate study at historically black Fisk University in Nashville. Barry organized the campus's first NAACP chapter and helped stage nonviolent Sit-Ins ...

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Caryn E. Neumann

four-time mayor of Washington, D.C., was born on a cotton plantation near the Delta hamlet of Itta Bena in northwestern Mississippi to sharecroppers Marion Barry Sr. and Mattie Barry. In 1940 Barry Sr. died, and in 1944 Barry, his mother, and his sister moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where Mattie worked as a maid and married Dave Cummings a butcher The combined family which eventually included nine members lived in a narrow wooden shotgun house in South Memphis one of four black enclaves in the city Barry slept on the couch and rose early each morning to chop wood for the stove He stuffed cardboard in his shoes to fill the holes and sold his sandwiches to other kids at school for pocket money A bright industrious child he eventually became one of the first African American Eagle Scouts in Memphis In the summer he traveled with his mother ...

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Charles F. Casey-Leninger

first black mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio, was born in Maysville, Kentucky, to a white farmer whom he never knew and Cora Berry. When he was a toddler, Berry's mother brought him to Cincinnati, where they settled in the emerging African American community in the city's West End. Severely hearing impaired and with difficulty speaking, his mother earned little as a domestic, and Berry's sister Anna, fifteen years his senior, eventually assembled the family in her own household.

Berry attended the segregated Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School and graduated from the racially mixed Woodward High School in 1924 as valedictorian, the first black student in Cincinnati to achieve that honor in an integrated high school. Berry received his bachelor of arts degree from the University of Cincinnati in 1928 and his juris doctorate from the UC College of Law in 1931 He worked his way through school by selling ...

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Robert Fay

Unita Blackwell, the daughter of sharecroppers, was born in Lula, Mississippi. Although she never attended high school, Blackwell eventually earned a master's degree in regional planning from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She began working in the Civil Rights Movement in Mayersville, Mississippi in the early 1960s. At that time, she supported herself by chopping cotton for three dollars a day. When civil rights workers came to Mayersville encouraging voter registration among African Americans, Blackwell was one of the first to register. Shortly thereafter she was fired from her job for urging others to register.

Blackwell then went to work for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), registering voters, leading boycotts and protests, and initiating civil proceedings to stop discriminatory practices in the state. The most notable case was the landmark Blackwell v. Board of Education in 1965 and 1966 a case that furthered school desegregation Blackwell was ...

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Vicki Crawford

Blackwell is one of the courageous, yet unsung heroines of the modern civil rights movement. Born to sharecroppers near Lula, Coahoma County in the Mississippi Delta Blackwell rose from poverty to become a national leader and outspoken critic of racial and economic inequality After her father had an argument with the bossman about whether Unita should be required to do work in the cotton field when he believed she was too young he left Mississippi to find work in Tennessee From that time Blackwell and her mother and siblings moved from one relative s home to another As a child she worked in the cotton fields and in order to get a decent education she had to go across the state line to West Helena Arkansas She would live for eight months at a time with her aunt in that city in effect hiding out from the man who ...

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Nan Elizabeth Woodruff

civil rights activist and mayor was born in Lula Mississippi the daughter of sharecroppers in Coahoma County Mississippi Her father had to leave Mississippi when he refused to obey his plantation owner s order to send his young daughter Unita to the fields to pick cotton He found work in an icehouse in a neighboring state Her mother was illiterate and determined that her children would learn to read and write In the Mississippi Delta everyone was required to pick and chop cotton and the schools closed down to allow for this work except for two or three months a year Consequently Unita Blackwell and her sister took the ferry across the Mississippi River to West Helena Arkansas She lived with her aunt for eight months of the year and attended Westside Junior High School where she completed the eighth grade Later she received her high school equivalency diploma Blackwell ...

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Steven J. Niven

mayor of Los Angeles, was born in a log cabin on a cotton plantation near Calvert, in Robertson County, Texas, the son of Lee Thomas Bradley and Crenner Hawkins sharecroppers Calvert had thrived in the late nineteenth century buoyed by the cottonseed industry and the Southern Pacific Railroad but its economy had declined by the time of Thomas s birth Life for sharecroppers like the Bradleys was precarious little better in fact than it had been for Lee s father a slave in the Carolinas They knew the certainty of picking cotton for eighteen hours a day and the annual uncertainty of the price of that cotton Heavily indebted to white landlords Lee and Crenner struggled to provide their family with vital necessities such as food and health care five of their children died in infancy Like many southern blacks in the 1920s the Bradley family saw only one ...

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Kate Tuttle

The first black mayor of Los Angeles, California, Tom Bradley served for twenty years, longer than any previous mayor of that city. Bradley's quiet, self-effacing manner attracted less national attention than other African American big-city mayors such as New York's David Dinkins or Washington's Marion Barry, but his national reputation was so strong that in 1988 he was on Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale's shortlist for vice-presidential candidates. The late Ron Brown, then chairman of the Democratic National Committee, praised Bradley for his ability “to hold a very complex and diverse city together.”

One of seven children born to his sharecropper parents on a cotton plantation in Calvert, Texas, Bradley moved with his family to Los Angeles when he was seven. In high school he excelled academically and athletically, winning a track scholarship to the University of California at Los Angeles, which he entered in 1937 ...

Article

Jamal Donaldson Briggs

lawyer, activist, and first African American mayor of Los Angeles. Thomas J. Bradley was born to Lee and Crenner Bradley in Calvert, Texas. The Bradleys moved to Los Angeles in 1924; there his father worked as a porter on the railroad and his mother worked as a maid. His father abandoned the family shortly after they all moved out West.

Bradley excelled in athletics at Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles, serving as captain of the track team and making the all-city football team. Bradley graduated in 1937 and attended the University of California at Los Angeles on a track scholarship. He dropped out during his junior year to join the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in 1940 as a lieutenant; at the time he was the highest-ranking African American police officer in Los Angeles. In 1941 he married his childhood sweetheart, Ethel Mae Arnold The ...

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Arthur Matthew Holst

politician, was born Willie Lewis Brown Jr. in Mineola, Texas, to Lewis Brown, a part-time waiter, and Minnie Collins, a maid. From the age of four he was raised by his mother and his grandmother, Anna Lee Collins, after his father abandoned the family. What Brown lacked in wealth was more than made up for by the caring and love given to him by these two women and his three siblings. Driven by his desire to make his mother and grandmother proud, he tackled any task given to him with determination. Later in life he said of his family, “They believed in me, taught me the value of hard work and the importance of education, and nurtured my sense of dignity of self worth.”

Willie Brown s childhood was plagued by segregation racism and hatred In a society where Jim Crow laws were the norm Brown excelled ...

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Kate Tuttle

After serving thirty-one years in the California State Assembly—the last fifteen as speaker, the second most powerful position in the state—Democrat Willie Brown announced in 1995 that he would run for mayor of San Francisco. The 1990 passage of state term limits had effectively ended his tenure as speaker. But the law, which some believed was specially designed to end Brown's long political career, merely forced him to seek new challenges. Following his mayoral victory over incumbent Frank Jordan, Brown gave the citizens of his adopted hometown an inaugural celebration that symbolized the qualities for which the city and its mayor are famous: style, exuberance, and inclusiveness.

A native of Mineola, Texas, Brown moved to San Francisco in 1951 to attend San Francisco State University (then San Francisco State College), from which he graduated in 1955 He went on to earn a law degree from California s Hastings ...

Article

politician, was one of six children born to Clarence Henry Burns, Sr., a laborer for an oil company, and Selena Burns, a house cleaner, in Baltimore, Maryland. Despite little formal education, Burns built upon his grassroots involvement in politics to enter elected office, rise through the City Council, and become the city's first black mayor in 1987.

Born and raised in Baltimore's Eastside neighborhood, Burns became enticed by the city's ward political life by his father, who volunteered as a precinct worker in local elections, and promised each of his children a dollar for distributing election pamphlets on the streets. As a youth, Burns held down a number of odd jobs, selling newspapers and vegetables, and carting home shoppers’ groceries from the market in a wagon.

Burns graduated in 1936 from Frederick Douglass High School, one of the oldest integrated schools in the nation. In 1943 he ...

Article

Bret A. Weber

law enforcement officer, community organizer, and mayor, was born in Stamps, Lafayette County, Arkansas, but lived most of his life and built his career in the state capital, Little Rock. His mother, Annie Bussey, lived in Stamps, with his father Charlie Bussey, who worked at the local sawmill. A childhood friend of Maya Angelou's, Bussey and his sister, Delvira Bussey, who became a schoolteacher, shared a deep concern for the welfare and future of children. He moved to Little Rock in the 1940s and opened an appliance shop and on 11 October 1945 married Maggie Clark. Though unsuccessful in the appliance business, by 1950 he had become the state s first black deputy sheriff and was later assigned to the prosecuting attorney s office as an investigator As deputy sheriff he founded the Junior Deputy Baseball program and many of those ...

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politician, was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, to Ralph Campbell, a janitor, and June Campbell, a secretary. With both parents involved in activism—Ralph was a NAACP chapter president, and June organized civil rights events at schools and churches—Campbell was thrust into public service at a young age. At age six, he and his older brother, Ralph Jr. handed out leaflets for the NAACP at age seven when Raleigh nominally adopted integration Campbell became the first black child to attend a white public school when he enrolled at Murphy Public School Though thirty black families had originally registered their children after intimidation and Ku Klux Klan threats Campbell was the only child not to be withdrawn by the start of the school year Though his father received a threatening phone call from the KKK and though he himself was the subject of frequent taunts Campbell endured and ...

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Jason Philip Miller

mayor and U.S. Congressman, was born in tiny Waxahachie, Texas, into a family of preachers. He came of age in a public housing development near Wichita Falls, Texas, and attended the public schools there. For a time, he wished to pursue a life as a professional football player, but an injury prevented him from seeing that dream to fulfillment. Instead, he attended Texas A&M, from which he graduated in 1968. Falling back onto what was to some large degree the family business, Cleaver earned his Master of Divinity degree from St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri. There, at the behest of Ralph Abernathy he established a chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference He was assigned to St James Church and under his guidance the tiny inner city congregation fewer than thirty regular attendees when Cleaver took over soon blossomed into the one of ...

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William P. Kladky

was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, a son of John Coleman, a physician, and Joan Coleman, a community activist. Coleman moved to Toledo at an early age. Coleman earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the University of Cincinnati and a Juris Doctor from the University of Dayton School of Law.

Coleman is a Democrat, and served as the fifty‐second mayor of Columbus, Ohio. As of 2011, when he was elected to his fourth term in office, he was the longest consecutively serving mayor in Columbus's history, and its first African‐American mayor. Coleman began his public career when he was appointed to the Columbus City Council in 1992. Subsequently reelected to two terms, he served as Council President from 1997 until 1999. In 1998 Coleman was the Democratic nominee for Ohio lieutenant governor but he and the gubernatorial nominee Lee Fisher lost ...

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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 ...