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Christopher Phelps

labor organizer and socialist, was born in Malden, West Virginia, in the home of his maternal grandfather, a coal miner and Baptist preacher. He and three younger sisters were born to Janie Rice McKinney, a graduate of the Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia, and William Tecumseh McKinney, a teacher who later became principal of the Negro school in Huntington, West Virginia, and then, as a loyal Republican, was awarded a post in the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C.

To provide the children a superior education, the family relocated to Oberlin, Ohio, where between 1910 and 1913 McKinney attended the Academy, a preparatory school run by Oberlin College. In 1911 he helped found the Oberlin chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) after a visit from W. E. B. Du Bois After encountering a member of the Socialist Party in a Cleveland bookstore ...