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Rose Pelone Sisson

U.S. congresswoman, was born Julia May Porter in Louisville, Kentucky, to Velma Porter, a maid, and Clifford McGuire. In 1939 Velma and Julia moved to Indianapolis, Indiana. In 1955 Carson graduated from Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis. She attended Indiana Central Business College and went on to complete three years of college over her lifetime. She attended Indiana University–Purdue University from 1970 to 1972, St. Mary of the Woods College from 1976 to 1978, and Martin University in Indianapolis from 1994 to 1995.

As a youth Carson delivered newspapers, waited tables, and did summer farm labor to earn money. After high school she was a secretary, working for the United Auto Workers Local #550 until 1965. She married Sammy Carson, a laborer, in 1956. She sought a divorce that was granted in 1963 and was given custody of her two ...


Julie Gallagher

politician, women's rights advocate, and educator. Chisholm was born Shirley Anita St. Hill in Brooklyn, New York, to Charles St. Hill and Ruby Seale, immigrants from the Caribbean island of Barbados. During the Depression, Chisholm and her two younger sisters were sent to live with their grandmother in Barbados. They stayed there for seven years. Chisholm claimed that her sense of pride in herself and her race came largely from her father, an ardent follower of Marcus Garvey.

Chisholm attended Brooklyn College from 1942 to 1946, where she developed her oratorical skills in the Debate Society. At the same time, her membership in the Harriet Tubman Society and the Political Science Society stimulated her racial and political consciousness. Her leadership skills attracted attention, and one of her professors suggested that she consider entering politics.

Chisholm's career in early childhood education spanned nearly two decades. Between 1946 ...


Charles Orson Cook

politician, community activist, and sixteen-term United States congressman. William Clay Sr. was one of Missouri's most successful champions of civil rights in the twentieth century. Born one of seven children to Luella Hyatt and Irving Clay in Saint Louis, Missouri, young Clay attended Roman Catholic schools, where he was academically successful despite the disadvantages inherent in a segregated education. After high school, he enrolled in Saint Louis University and graduated with a bachelor's degree in political science in 1953. Clay completed a two-year tour of duty with the U.S. Army in 1955 After a brief flirtation with a career in business he became a labor organizer a community activist and ultimately a congressman from Missouri s First Congressional District for thirty two years Clay has spoken of the racial injustices he encountered early in life He recalled initiating a movement of black servicemen to desegregate the base swimming ...


Ruth E. Martin

activist, attorney, judge, and United States congressman, was born in Jacksonville, Duval County, Florida, the son of Minnie Amelia Jenkins and George William Crockett Sr. The former was a licensed public school teacher, and the latter a railroad carpenter for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and Baptist church pastor.

George Crockett Jr. graduated from Morehouse College in 1931, and the University of Michigan Law School in 1934, before returning to Jacksonville. He was one of a small number of practicing African American attorneys in Florida at this time. In 1934 he married Ethelene Crockett, with whom he would have three children, Elizabeth Crockett Hicks, George W. Crockett III, and Ethelene Crockett Jones.

Initiating a lifetime at the forefront of the civil rights legal struggle, Crockett was the first African American lawyer employed by the U.S. Department of Labor, from 1939 ...


David A. Spatz

politician, the first African American U.S. congressman from the North. Oscar De Priest was born in Florence, Alabama, in 1871. His family migrated to Salina, Kansas, in 1878 to escape racial tensions, but only one other black family lived in Salina when the De Priests arrived. Oscar, his five sisters, and one brother faced constant discrimination. He left at seventeen and settled in Chicago in 1889. He found work as a painter, passing as white and, when discovered and fired, moved from one job to the next. Eventually, he started his own decorating and contracting business, and later enjoyed great success as a real estate broker. His only child with his wife Jessie Williams, Oscar De Priest Jr., worked with him and took over the business when the elder De Priest died.

De Priest entered politics soon after his arrival in Chicago His ability ...


Zinga A. Fraser

politician and activist. Dellums has been described as one of the most radical members in congressional history because he constantly challenged America's political system. In his book, Lying Down with the Lions (2000), he discusses this apparent conflict between the role of a radical advocate and that of an effective legislator.

Ronald Vernie Dellums was born in Oakland, California. Prior to pursuing his educational career, he spent two years in the U.S. Marines. Majoring in social work and psychiatry, he earned an associate degree from Oakland City College in 1958, then a Bachelor of Arts from San Francisco State College in 1960 and a master s in social work from the University of California at Berkeley School of Social Welfare Dellums believed his specialization in psychiatric social work allowed him to help marginalized people navigate the social and structural problems of everyday life Against the ...


Susan Love Brown

journalist, educator, politician, and statesman. Mervyn Malcolm Dymally, born in Cedros, Trinidad, achieved many “firsts” in American politics. His mother, Andreid Richardson, of Trinidadian descent, and his father, Hamid Dymally, of South Asian descent, educated him through high school, at Naparima College in San Fernando, Trinidad, after which he worked as a reporter for the Oilfields Workers Trade Union newspaper, The Vanguard, in Trinidad. This spurred his interest in a journalistic career, which took him to Lincoln University in Missouri at the age of nineteen. Eventually, he moved to Los Angeles State College of Applied Arts and Sciences, where he majored in education, receiving his bachelor's degree in 1954. From then on he combined education, politics, and involvement in international issues as the interests that guided his career.

While working as a science special education teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District ...


Michaeljulius Idani

politician, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Newton Jackson Ford and Victoria Davis. He was the ninth of fifteen children, only twelve of whom survived early childhood. Ford's father led a successful funeral home, N. J. Ford & Sons, and both parents were leading figures in Memphis's African American community. Newton Ford was active in Memphis politics and encouraged Harold and his two older brothers, John and Emmitt, to advance the cause of civil rights.

As a teenager Ford moved to Nashville to pursue an education at Tennessee State University and also to manage the family funeral business. During this time he experienced his first political campaign, working on his father's unsuccessful bid for the Tennessee state legislature. That campaign helped Ford understand the challenges facing African Americans attempting to break into a political structure dominated by whites. After graduating in 1967 he studied ...


Ryan J. Davis

U.S. Representative, politician, and entrepreneur, was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, the youngest of six children of Richard and Jenary Franks. Richard was a former North Carolina sharecropper with no education beyond the sixth grade. Jenary was a dietary specialist at Waterbury Hospital in Connecticut.

Franks was raised Baptist, but attended Sacred Heart High School, a Catholic school located in the heart of Waterbury. Franks was involved in many extracurricular activities at Sacred Heart. He was an all-New England basketball player and president of his senior class. In 1971 Franks completed high school and then attended Yale University Uncertain about his political views at the time Franks registered as a Democrat like many black Americans in the 1970s Franks continued his involvement in extracurricular activities by joining the Yale basketball team Although he did not receive much playing time until his senior year Franks high score ...


Amber Moulton-Wiseman

minister, congressman, businessman, philanthropist, was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the son of William H. Gray Jr., a minister and university president, and Hazel Yates Gray, a university dean. During Gray's early childhood, his father was president of both Florida Memorial College and Florida A&M University, and his mother was dean of students at Southern University in Baton Rouge. However, the family then moved to Philadelphia in 1949. There, Gray's father took a position as pastor of the Bright Hope Baptist Church. William H. Gray Jr.'s own father had held that post since 1925.

Gray was educated in the public school system and graduated from Philadelphia's Simon Gratz High School in 1959. Upon graduation, Gray enrolled at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and pursued his joint interest in religion and politics, even taking an internship with Democratic Congressman Robert ...


Kerry Pimblott

politician and trade unionist, was born in Cairo, Illinois, the eldest son of Nevada Bell and Charles Hayes Sr., the latter a farm laborer. Charles Arthur Hayes spent his formative years in Cairo, graduating from that city's Sumner High School in 1935.

After high school, Hayes took a job stacking lumber at E. L. Bruce Company, a leading manufacturer of hardwood flooring. Hayes quickly rose to the more skilled position of machine operator and became active in efforts to organize a union. In 1939, these efforts resulted in the founding of Local 1424 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. A few months later, Hayes was elected president, marking the beginning of a long career as a labor organizer.

During World War II, Hayes, like thousands of African Americans, migrated north to Chicago in search of better employment opportunities. In 1942 Hayes ...


Richard Sobel

civil rights activist and U.S. congressman, was born to the civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson and Jacqueline Davis Jackson in Greenville, South Carolina. Jackson had an older sister, Santita, and younger siblings, Jonathan, Yusef, and Jacqueline. As a child, he was active, assertive and intelligent.

Believing their sons “needed a more regimented form of discipline” (Chicago Magazine, May 1996, 58), in 1977 the Jacksons sent Jesse Jr. and Jonathan to a military school, LeMans Academy in Indiana, where Jesse Jr. was a student for two years. While traveling with the Reverend Jackson in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe on civil rights missions, the children were introduced to celebrities, including Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela, so they were familiar and comfortable with leadership and celebrity from an early age.

Jackson Jr. finished high school in 1984 at ...


Donna A. Patterson

lawyer, politician, state senator, and U.S. congressman, was born one of nine children in Lake Providence, Louisiana, to Mose and Angelina Jefferson. His father worked for the Army Corps of Engineers and managed a sharecropping plot. After graduating from high school, Jefferson majored in political science and English at Southern University in Baton Rouge where he met his future wife, Andrea Green. There he became involved in campus politics. His activities included organizing a protest about campus living conditions; he was also elected student body president. In 1969 he received his BA, and in 1972 he was awarded a JD degree from Harvard University. In 1996 he returned to school to complete a master of laws in Taxation from Georgetown University.

He married Green in 1970. Their union produced five daughters: Jamila, Jalila, Jelani, Nailah, and Akilah His ...


Mona E. Jackson

Named by Ebony magazine in 2001 as one of the ten most powerful black women in America, Eddie Bernice Johnson became the first African American woman to represent the Dallas, Texas, area in the U.S. Congress in 1992. With a passion for justice and the courage to speak her mind, Johnson has been a leader in championing legislation designed to empower low-income communities. As a member of the House of Representatives, Johnson has taken pride in transcending the actions of the average politician: “The average politician, in my judgment, just wants to get along. Getting along is important, but it’s not a number one thing for me. I believe in saying what I mean and meaning what I say.”

Eddie Bernice Johnson was born in Waco, Texas, to Edward Johnson and Lillie Mae White Johnson After finishing high school she attended St Mary s at Notre Dame ...


Susan E. O'Donovan

radical Republican, labor leader, Georgia state representative, and carpenter, was born a slave in Mecklenburg County, Virginia. Little is known of Joiner's mother, Lucy Parker, except that she bore at least four other children (Lucy Ann Joiner, Betsey Gill, and Carter and George Murray). Even less is known of Joiner's father, a man Philip never met. One of an estimated 3 million enslaved men and women who were forcibly transported from the upper to the lower South between 1790 and 1860, Joiner was sold away from most of his Virginia kin in 1847. Accompanied by his mother, Joiner arrived as an eleven-year-old in southwest Georgia, an area of the cotton South later made famous by W. E. B. Du Bois in Souls of Black Folk (1903 Most likely coming of age on one of the plantations that ...


Alonford James Robinson

John Lewis was one of ten children born to sharecroppers in Pike County, Alabama. He graduated from high school and entered the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1957. After graduating in 1961, he enrolled at Fisk University, where he earned a B.A. degree in 1967.

While a seminary student, Lewis participated in nonviolence workshops taught by civil rights activist James Lawson. Lawson was a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), an organization committed to pacifism, and he made Lewis a field secretary. Working with Septima Clark, director of an interracial adult-education center called the Highlander Folk School, Lewis became a leader in the Nashville student movement. He participated in Sit-Ins at segregated lunch counters, became a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960, and helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964.

During his tenure ...


Robert C. Smith

civil rights leader and member of Congress, was born John Robert Lewis near Troy, Alabama, the third of seven children. Lewis's father, Eddie, was a sharecropper and small farmer, and his mother, Willie Mae, occasionally did laundry. Both of his parents were deeply religious, which may have helped shape Lewis's lifelong commitment to Christianity. As a young man, Lewis recalls, he heard Martin Luther King Jr. preach on the radio and was inspired to make the ministry his vocation. Starting by preaching in the woods near his home, eventually he was allowed to preach at local churches. In 1957 he became the first of his family to graduate from high school. After graduating, Lewis enrolled in the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee.

In 1958, at the age of eighteen, he met Dr. King and his life was changed forever he decided to devote it ...


Michaeljulius Idani

political activist, New York legislator, and congressman, was born in New York City, the oldest of four children. The Meeks family lived in public housing in East Harlem, but his parents were hard working and kept the family tight-knit. Meeks's father, James worked several jobs to help cover household expenses and his mother focused on raising the children tutoring and encouraging them to excel in school When Meeks and his siblings were older his mother would return to school to earn her college diploma When he was a young man Meeks s parents tried to instill in him a sense of pride and duty to his community His mother was active in the neighborhood watch and his father worked with neighborhood youths He was also exposed to many different cultures One of his father s many jobs was porter at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway where ...


Alonford James Robinson

The eldest of four children, Kweisi Mfume (born Frizzell Gray) was raised in a poor community just outside Baltimore, Maryland, by his mother and stepfather, Mary and Clifton Gray. After years of physical abuse, Mary Gray left her husband in 1960 and moved the family to a neighborhood closer to the city. Four years later she was diagnosed with cancer and within a short time learned the disease was terminal. Mfume and his sisters were devastated by the news and suffered another traumatic blow when she died, literally, in the arms of her only son. In his autobiography, No Free Ride, Mfume recalls just how difficult it was losing his mother. Mfume quit high school after his mother died and worked to support his three sisters. Disillusioned, he also began hanging out on the streets, becoming a gang leader and fathering several illegitimate children.

Disappointed with ...


Rosetta E. Ross

women's and civil rights activist and congresswoman, was born Eleanor Katherine Holmes, the eldest of three daughters of Coleman Sterling Holmes, a public health and housing inspector, and Vela Lynch Holmes, a teacher, in segregated Washington, D.C. Oral history dates the family's residence in Washington to the early 1850s, when her paternal great-grandfather walked off a Virginia plantation to freedom in the District of Columbia. Holmes's father attended Syracuse University in upstate New York and worked his way through law school, though he never took the bar exam and never practiced law. Holmes's mother, born on a family farm in North Carolina, completed normal school in New York, where she earned a teaching certificate. After she married and moved to Washington, she earned a bachelor's degree from Howard University and passed the district's teacher certification exam, becoming the financial stronghold of her family.

As a child ...