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Connie Park Rice

newspaper editor and civil rights lawyer, was born in Williamsport, Virginia (later West Virginia), the youngest of three sons born to Isaac Clifford, a farmer, and Mary Satilpa Kent, free blacks living in Hardy County. John Robert joined the Union army on 3 March 1865, rising to the rank of corporal in the 13th U.S. Heavy Artillery. After serving in Kentucky, Tennessee, and eastern Virginia under General Ulysses S. Grant, Clifford volunteered for service at Chicago, Illinois.

After the Civil War, Clifford remained in Chicago, staying from 1865 to 1868 with the Honorable John J. Healy, an acquaintance of his father, and graduating from Chicago High School. Clifford worked as a barber before going to live with an uncle in Zeno, Muskingum County, Ohio, where he attended a school taught by Miss Effie McKnight and received a diploma from a writing school conducted by a Professor ...


Dickson D. Jr. Bruce

scholar and activist, was born in Colleton County, South Carolina, near Charleston, the eldest of three sons of Henry Grimké, a lawyer and member of one of South Carolina's leading families, and Nancy Weston, a slave owned by Grimké. He was also a nephew, on his father's side, of the noted white southern abolitionists Sarah Grimké and Angelina Grimké Weld. Although Archibald was born a slave, Henry acknowledged him as his son. After Henry's death in 1852 his mother took him to Charleston, where, even though he was still legally a slave, he attended a school for free blacks.

This condition was to change with the coming of the Civil War, when, in 1860, one of Henry's adult white sons, from an earlier marriage, forced the Grimké brothers—Archibald, John, and Francis J. Grimké—to work as household slaves. Archibald escaped in 1863 hiding in ...


Nancy T. Robinson

professor, lawyer, activist, and entrepreneur, was born in Eufaula, Alabama, the son of Jennie Dunn and Henry Clay Hart, an Alabama slaveholder who had been born in Rhode Island. From 1867 to 1874 Hart attended Eufaula's American Missionary Association School, where he became involved in the black voting rights movement. Hart was a youth activist who spoke publicly in opposition of local government. This behavior drew attention to him and caused great concern for his safety. Fearful and impoverished, Hart left Alabama and gradually traveled to Washington, D.C., entirely on foot.

In 1876 Hart enrolled at Howard University. He graduated in 1880 with a Preparatory Department certificate and continued his studies, graduating with a BA degree in 1885, an LLB in 1887, an MA in 1889, and an LLM in 1891 During his time as a law student Hart worked for ...


Barbara Bair

Baltimore attorney, civic leader, political activist, and champion of legal challenges to racial segregation laws, was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, the son of Susan Cobb Hawkins and Robert Hawkins, a minister. Hawkins graduated in 1885 from the Centenary Biblical Institute (later Morgan College). In March of the same year he married his first wife, Ada McMechen (1867–?) of Virginia, in a Baltimore service led by the Reverend Benjamin Brown, a church activist and pastor of the Sharp Street Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church, of which Hawkins was a lifelong member. William and Ada Hawkins had two daughters, Aldina Hawkins (Haynes) (1885–1940) and Roberta Hawkins (West) (1891–?).

Hawkins worked as an educator while studying law at the University of Maryland but he was forced to leave the college when white students petitioned to exclude blacks He graduated from the Howard ...


Aimee Lee Cheek and William Cheek

political leader and intellectual, was born free in Louisa County, Virginia, the son of Ralph Quarles, a wealthy white slaveholding planter, and Lucy Jane Langston, a part-Native American, part-black slave emancipated by Quarles in 1806. After the deaths of both of their parents in 1834, Langston and his two brothers, well provided for by Quarles's will but unprotected by Virginia law, moved to Ohio. There Langston lived on a farm near Chillicothe with a cultured white southern family who had been friends of his father and who treated him as a son. He was in effect orphaned again in 1839 when a court hearing concluding that his guardian s impending move to slave state Missouri would imperil the boy s freedom and inheritance forced him to leave the family Subsequently he boarded in four different homes white and black in Chillicothe and Cincinnati worked ...


Donna Grear Parker

lawyer and black activist, was born in Aberdeen, Mississippi, the son of Abraham McGhee and Sarah Walker, slaves. Although Frederick's father, a blacksmith, was not allowed a formal education, he learned to read and write, later becoming a Baptist preacher. Abraham McGhee also made certain that his children were literate, teaching each of them how to read and write. Such skills served young Frederick well when his parents died in 1873. Having moved with his family to Knoxville, Tennessee, soon after his parents were freed, Frederick McGhee remained there, studying at Knoxville College under the tutelage of Presbyterian missionaries. Without completing his undergraduate studies, he soon ventured to Chicago, working as a waiter for a time and then studying law with Edward H. Morris, a prominent local lawyer.

By 1885 McGhee was admitted to the Illinois bar, and in 1886 he married Mattie B. Crane ...


Thaddeus Russell

attorney and civil rights leader, was born in Stafford County, Virginia, the son of slaves whose names are unknown. Emancipated during the Civil War, the family moved to Washington, D.C., where Morgan attended the well-regarded Preparatory High School for Colored Youth. He left school and worked briefly as a barber in Washington before moving to St. Louis, Missouri, where for four years he worked as a teacher.

In 1885 Morgan moved to Boston to attend the Boston Latin School. After graduating in 1886 he enrolled in Harvard College, where he and W. E. B. Du Bois were then the only African American students. While at Harvard, Morgan supported himself by working as a barber and by giving readings and speeches at summer resorts. Sizable scholarships for academic excellence took care of most of his tuition costs. In 1889 he won the Boylston Prize for oratory (Du Bois ...


Paul Finkelman

probably the second black attorney to be admitted to practice law in the United States, was born in Salem, Massachusetts, to York Morris, a waiter, and Nancy Thomas. His grandfather, Cumons Morris, was brought to the United States from Africa while York Morris gained his freedom in 1781 and moved to Salem, working as a waiter. There he married Nancy Thomas, who gave birth to Robert and ten other children. Morris attended a private school in Salem and then became a waiter like his father. At age thirteen he moved to Boston under the patronage of the abolitionist attorney Ellis Gray Loring. Initially he was a servant in the Loring home; then he became a clerk in Loring's office, mostly copying documents. In 1844 be began reading law in Loring's office, and in 1847 shortly after his twenty first birthday he passed the Massachusetts bar ...


Michelle Brattain

editor, Republican Party leader, and civil rights activist, was born near Jonesboro, Georgia, the son of a slave mother and a white planter father whose names are unknown. He received limited formal education as a child but attended Atlanta University as an adult and finally gained entrance to the Georgia bar as a self-taught lawyer in 1894. Little is known of his childhood, though Pledger himself related his early interest in politics to a contemporary journalist. According to a 1902 biographical account by Cyrus Field Adams, brother of John Quincy Adams (1848–1922), one of Pledger's “most pleasant recollections of his youth” was informing his mother in 1856 that presidential candidate John C. Frémont was “for the Negro” (Adams, 147).

After the Civil War Pledger moved to Atlanta and worked in city hotels and on the railroad In the early 1870s he moved to ...


Jennifer Larson

judge, politician, and activist, was born in Richmond, Virginia. He was the oldest son of George W. Ruffin, a barber, and Nancy Lewis, both free African Americans. Because the Ruffins valued education highly, they hired a tutor to teach their eight children English literature, as well as Latin and the classics, despite the financial strain of this instruction's cost. The Ruffins owned a small amount of property in Richmond, but they decided to abandon it and move to Boston in 1853 after the Virginia legislature prohibited African Americans from learning to read In Boston George W worked as a barber as he had in Richmond while Nancy made a profitable living selling fish and fruit that her relatives shipped to her from Richmond The eight Ruffin children entered the segregated Boston public school system At the Chapman Hall school nineteen year old George excelled ...


Alfred L. Brophy

businessman, lawyer, and civil rights litigant, was born John the Baptist (“J. B.”) Stradford (also sometimes spelled “Stratford”) probably in slavery at Versailles, Kentucky, the son of Julius Caesar Stradford. Little is known about Stradford's childhood. He studied at Oberlin College from 1882 to 1885 and Indianapolis Law School (later Indiana University–Indianapolis. He married Augusta, and they lived in Lawrenceberg, Kansas, among other places, before moving to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1899. Stradford owned and operated a rooming house, the Stradford Hotel, in Greenwood, the black section of Tulsa. Like other leaders of the Greenwood community (including fellow lawyers A.-J. Smitherman and Buck Colbert Franklin, the father of John Hope Franklin), Smitherman was concerned with aggressively preventing lynching and other violence. In 1909 Stradford challenged Oklahoma s statute that permitted unequal treatment on segregated railroad cars The statute permitted railroads to provide ...


Jolie A. Jackson-Willett

civil rights attorney and political activist, was born in Atlanta, Georgia. Little is known of his parents, except that his father was a black physician. Wilson graduated from Atlanta University and then attended Boston University Law School, where he received a degree of Juris Doctor in 1883. He became one of the social and political black elite of Boston, who enjoyed economic privilege but who were also dedicated to improving the quality of life for all African Americans. An interesting note is that Butler Wilson was among the first Negro golfers in post–Civil War America. He played with Dr. George Grant, the inventor of the first patented golf tee (and one of the country's first Negro dentists), and with other civil rights activists and socially prominent blacks such as Archibald Grimké (later president of the Washington, D.C., branch of the NAACP) and the noted restaurateur Howard Lee ...