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Peter Wallenstein

educator and civil rights litigant, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of William Henry “Sonnie” Alston, a drayman, and Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Smith, a laundress. The Alstons owned their home, and Melvin grew up in a middle-class environment. After attending Norfolk's segregated black public schools and graduating from Booker T. Washington High School, he graduated in 1935 from Virginia State College, where he was honored for his debating and for excellence in scholarship. Following graduation he began teaching math at Booker T. Washington High School. Beginning in 1937 he served as president of the Norfolk Teachers Association, and he also held local leadership positions in the Young Men's Christian Association and the First Calvary Baptist Church.

Alston played a key role in an effort by black teachers in the Norfolk city public schools to challenge racial discrimination in their salaries. In 1937 the Virginia Teachers Association VTA and ...


Charles Rosenberg

one of the first four graduates from Fisk University, school teacher, missionary, founder of the Tennessee and National Baptist Women's Convention, was born free in Nashville, Tennessee, to Nelson and Eliza Smart Walker. Her father had been enslaved in Virginia, but was allowed to hire his time, earning enough money to purchase both his own freedom and that of his wife. Moving to Tennessee, by 1870 he had accumulated $1,200 in real property working as a barber, while Eliza Walker worked as a dressmaker, supporting three daughters and three sons (1870 Census). Virginia was named for the state of her father's nativity, “which he never ceased to praise” (Broughton, p. 7).

At an early age she enrolled at a private school in Nashville, opened in the 1850s by Daniel Watkins, later pastor of the First Colored Christian Church. When Fisk School convened 9 January 1866 Walker ...


Sandy Dwayne Martin

Baptist leader and race advocate, was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, to free parents, Eliza (maiden name unknown) and William De Baptiste. Born in a slave state at a time when individuals were fined and incarcerated for teaching blacks, enslaved or free, Richard was fortunate to have parents who earnestly sought to educate their children and some relatives in their home, despite the law and heavy surveillance. In 1846 his family moved to Detroit, Michigan. Richard received additional education and for a time attended classes at the University of Chicago. Once the leading building and manufacturing contractor in Fredericksburg, William De Baptiste, following an unsuccessful partnership in a grocery enterprise, returned to the construction business. Richard became a partner in the business before his twenty-first birthday and served for some years as its manager. From 1858 to about 1861 he also taught black youth in the public schools of ...


Donna Tyler Hollie

educator, was born enslaved in Prince William County, Virginia, the eldest of four children of Charles and Annie Dean. She was named Jane Serepta but was called Jennie by her family and Miss Jennie by those on whose behalf she labored. It is probable that her only formal education was obtained in a school established by the Freedmen's Bureau when the Civil War ended.

Dean's father was a literate and ambitious man who, immediately after the end of the Civil War, contracted to buy a farm. Within a short time he died, and Dean assumed responsibility for the support of the family. She found employment as a domestic in Washington, D.C., and by living frugally, amassed the funds to pay off the mortgage. She also provided tuition for her siblings, at least one of whom became a teacher.

Dean became an active member of the 19th Street ...


Michele Valerie Ronnick

professor of Latin, educator, and editor, was born in the small town of Culpepper in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. He was the youngest son of James M. and Letetia B. Lightfoot. A teacher in the area, Enoch H. Grastie (also known as Grasty), who had earned a certificate from the Preparatory Department at Howard University in 1872, took an interest in the young Lightfoot and helped him get additional training in Washington, D.C. Lightfoot was able to study at the Howard University Academy from 1884 to 1887. In the fall of 1888 Lightfoot matriculated at Williams College as a sophomore. There he majored in Latin and took German as an elective. Among his professors was Edward Parmalee Morris, who taught Latin from 1885 to 1981 at Williams College Lightfoot was a member of Williams College s Classical Society and along ...