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Billingsley, Orzell, Jr.  

J. D. Jackson

civil rights attorney and political activist, was born in Birmingham, Alabama. One of three sons, he attended Birmingham public schools, including the city's first and oldest, and, at one time, the South's largest African American high school, Industrial (A. H. Parker) High.

After graduating from high school Billingsley attended two highly respected, historically black institutions of higher learning. The first was Talladega College, a private liberal arts college located in Alabama, fifty miles east of Birmingham. He graduated with high honors in 1946 and headed for Washington, D.C., where he attended Howard University School of Law. He earned his law degree there in 1950. Afterward, he returned to Alabama, where he was admitted to the Alabama state bar in 1951, one of the first ten African Americans to do so.

Instantly Billingsley threw himself behind the post World War II fight for full black citizenship in America Always ...


Edelman, Marian Wright  

Rosetta E. Ross

civil rights attorney and founder of the Children's Defense Fund, was born Marian Wright in Bennettsville, South Carolina, to Arthur Jerome Wright, a Baptist minister, and Maggie Leola Bowen, an active churchwoman. Both parents were community activists who took in relatives and others who could no longer care for themselves, eventually founding a home for the aged that continued to be run by family members in the early twenty-first century. The Wrights also built a playground for black children denied access to white recreational facilities, and nurtured in their own children a sense of responsibility and community service. As soon as Marian and her siblings were old enough to drive, they continued the family tradition of delivering food and coal to the poor, elderly, and sick. Arthur Wright also encouraged his children to read about and to revere influential African Americans like Mary McLeod Bethune and Marian Anderson ...


Gaines, Leslie Isaiah  

Eric R. Jackson

was born on February 13, 1945 in Washington, DC, to Leslie and Bernice Gaines. The family then moved to Sandy Spring, in Montgomery County, Maryland, where his father worked as a custodian at one of the city’s African American high schools. From the time that he was a child, Gaines believed that one day he would be a community activist or become a member of the legal profession. For example, despite being told by a high school counselor that he should quit school and find a manual laboring job, Gaines’ journey to the legal profession started as soon as he finished his undergraduate degree at Maryland State College, an HBCU in Princess Anne (now the University of Maryland Eastern Shore) in 1967.

In 1968 he entered Howard Law School in Washington DC without the submission of any LSAT scores which Gaines proclaimed many years later is the system ...


Hargrave, Frank Settle  

E. Renée Ingram

physician and surgeon who specialized in pulmonary medicine, was born in Lexington, Davidson County, North Carolina. He was the son of Henry M. and Laura Hargrave, farmers, and one of fourteen children; he attended local public schools in Lexington before attending the state normal school in Salisbury, North Carolina. Hargrave received a BS from Shaw University in 1901 and an MD from Leonard Medical School. Founded in 1885, Leonard Medical School was one of the first medical schools in the United States to have a four-year curriculum. It also was the first four-year medical school to train African American doctors and pharmacists in the South. Hargrave practiced medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, from 1901 to 1903 before relocating his private medical practice to Wilson, North Carolina, where he practiced from 1903 to 1924 and established the Wilson Hospital and Tubercular Home. Hargrave married Bessie E Parker ...


Hawkins, William Ashbie  

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 ...


Jenkins, Edward  

Erin D. Somerville

English lawyer and Victorian novelist whose examination of Indian indentured labourers influenced post‐abolition politics. The son of a Wesleyan missionary, Jenkins was born in Bangalore, India. He was educated in Canada before moving to Britain in the 1860s and qualifying as a barrister in 1864.

Jenkins became involved with the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science after starting his law practice. His involvement with the Association nurtured the link between domestic public health and international social policy that would dominate his later political writing. In 1870 the Aborigines Protection Society and the Anti‐Slavery Society commissioned Jenkins to travel to British Guiana and investigate injustices within the indentureship system. His criticism of the plantocracy focused on the medical, legal, and labour mistreatment of Indian and Chinese indentured workers and was documented in The Coolie: His Rights and Wrongs (1871 Half travelogue and half legal report the ...


Lewis, Kathleen McCree  

Charles Rosenberg

attorney, Detroit area civic leader, and nominee for the sixth circuit federal court of appeals, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Wade Hampton McCree Jr. and Dores B. McCrary McCree, and grew up in Detroit, Michigan.

Her father served as a Michigan circuit judge for Wayne County, 1954–1961, and as a federal U.S. district judge 1961–1966, and U.S. sixth circuit court of appeals judge from 1966 to 1977, when he was appointed solicitor general of the United States by President Jimmy Carter. He was the first African American to serve on the sixth circuit court, and the second (after Thurgood Marshall) as solicitor general. Kathleen Lewis attended Detroit public schools, graduating from Cass Technical High School in 1965, then entered Fisk University (Jet, 24 Mar. 1966, 39), where Judge McCree was an alumnus and later a ...


Phillips, Vel  

LaRose M. Davis

was born Velvalea Hortense Rodgers, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the second of three daughters of Thelma Etha Payne Rodgers, a homemaker, and Russell Lowell Rodgers, a small business owner. Her mother’s side of the family included an African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) bishop as well as African missionaries. From an early age Phillips demonstrated an intellectual prowess that would be the hallmark of her academic career. After graduating from North Division High School in 1942, she won an Elks Scholarship that allowed her to study at Howard University and graduate in 1946. In 1947 she met and married fellow student W. Dale Phillips. After two years of working as a social worker, Phillips enrolled in the University of Wisconsin Madison law school. In 1951 she became the first African American woman to earn a law degree from the UW.

After her graduation the couple moved to Milwaukee where Phillips immediately ...


Powell, John A.  

Terri A. Karis

civil rights and antipoverty activist, was born John Anthony Powell in Detroit, Michigan, the sixth of nine children born to Marshall Powell, an autoworker and minister, and Florcie Mae Rimpson, a nurse. Both parents were former sharecroppers. From a young age powell had exceptional abilities and unconventional ways of thinking that challenged his deeply religious family.

At age eleven he decided to leave the church where his father was minister At issue was the church s teaching that all non Christians would go to hell powell was concerned about what this meant for the millions of people who were non Christian Around this same time his great grandmother with whom he had a special bond died as a result of poor medical care Powell s grief was amplified by the sense of exclusion he already felt in his family because of having left the church and his ...


Renfro, Mel  

Michael C. Miller

football player, was born Melvin Lacy Elisha Renfro in Houston, Texas. When Mel was four his family moved to Portland, Oregon. He attended Jefferson High School, where he excelled as a football player, playing offense (quarterback and running back), defense (defensive back), and special teams (kick and punt returner). Renfro led Jefferson to thirty-four consecutive victories, including three state championships. The only loss he suffered was the state championship his senior year. He graduated high school in 1960.

Renfro attended Oregon University where he ran track and played football becoming one of the best players in the school s history As in high school he played offense defense and special teams For his career he amassed 1 540 rushing yards averaging 5 5 yards per carry and twenty three touchdowns On defense he played safety and once recorded an astounding twenty one tackles in a game against Ohio ...


Robinson, Randall  

James Thomas Jones

activist, author, and founder of TransAfrica. Born in Richmond, Virginia, to Maxie Cleveland Robinson and Doris Robinson, Randall Robinson had an academically inclined and politically aware family. Both his parents were schoolteachers, so his growing up in a household filled with books and ideas is not surprising. All the Robinson children found success: Jewell, the eldest sister, integrated Goucher College and became an actress; Maxie Jr., known as Max, became a news anchor for ABC's World News Tonight, the first African American to anchor a national network-news program; and Jeanie, the youngest, also became an educator. Randall's path to success was not particularly smooth, however. Although in 1959 he earned a basketball scholarship to Norfolk State College, success proved elusive, and he dropped out and was drafted into the army.

Discharged from the army, Robinson enrolled at Virginia Union University and graduated in 1967 ...


Sloan, Edith Barksdale  

Jolie A. Jackson-Willett

humanitarian, political activist, and lawyer, grew up in the Bronx, New York. Her father, Odell Barksdale, was an electrician and a postal worker. Her mother, Elizabeth Watts Barksdale, was a retail buyer and a homemaker. Barksdale's parents, although not financially well-off, ensured that the Barksdale children were enriched culturally and socially by exposing them to a variety of experiences ranging from cooking, sewing, and piano lessons to attending political lectures and demonstrations. Early inspiration came from African American leaders, including Mary McLeod Bethune and Ralph Bunche, whom her parents took her to see when they came to New York City. Young Edith Barksdale even met First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and was ultimately inspired by Judge Edith Sampson, the first black woman elected to preside over municipal court.

Barksdale graduated from Hunter College of the City University of New York in 1959 She ...


Smith, Robert Lloyd  

Debra A. Reid

educator, politician, and reformer, was born to Francis A. and Mary H. (Talbot) Smith, free black schoolteachers in Charleston, South Carolina. Little is known about his childhood, other than that at some point he lost his right arm, presumably in an accident. It can be assumed, moreover, given his parents' occupations, that the household was a cultured one. Smith pursued education as a career, following in his parents' footsteps. He studied at Avery Normal Institute and then enrolled in the University of South Carolina in 1875, but he had to transfer to Atlanta University in 1877 after South Carolina legislators closed the university to black students. Smith finished his bachelor's degree in 1879 and taught in public schools in Georgia and South Carolina before relocating to rural Colorado County, Texas, in 1885 It is not certain what subjects he taught but it is believed ...


Sweatt, Heman Marion  

John R. Howard

civil rights plaintiff and social worker, was born in Houston, Texas, to James Leonard Sweatt and Ella Rose (Perry) Sweatt, whose occupations are unknown. Sixteen years before Heman's birth the United States Supreme Court had held in Plessy v. Ferguson that state-imposed racial segregation did not offend the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and hence the Texas in which Sweatt grew up was rigidly segregated. He attended the all-black Jack Yates High School, graduating in 1930, and went from there to the all-black Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, graduating in 1934.

The decade following his graduation from college saw Sweatt trying to find himself. He taught in a public school for a couple of years and then in 1937 entered the University of Michigan matriculating in biology in hopes of attending medical school He left after a year returned to Houston took a ...


Thomas, Franklin Augustine  

Angela Black

attorney and philanthropic foundation president, was born in New York City to James Thomas, a laborer, and Viola (Atherley) Thomas, a housekeeper. Thomas grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, the youngest of six children in a close-knit family of West Indies heritage. When Franklin was eleven years old his father died, and his mother took a second job during World War II as a machinist to support the family. However, when the war ended and the soldiers returned home, many companies replaced the minorities and women they had hired with war veterans, and Thomas's mother lost her machinist position.

Despite the violent atmosphere in his neighborhood Thomas was a well adjusted child socially and academically He was a Boy Scout and an excellent student who maintained high course marks By the time he entered Franklin J Lane High School he stood six feet four ...


Thomas, Franklin Augustine  

Franklin Thomas grew up in Brooklyn, New York's Bedford-Stuyvesant community and graduated with a B.A. in 1956 and a law degree in 1963, both from Columbia University. He worked stints as an attorney with the Federal Housing and Home Finance Agency, with the District Attorney's Office, and with the Police Department. From 1967 to 1977 he was President of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, working on business, job, and housing development in his home neighborhood. He was named the President of the Ford Foundation in 1979, the first African American to hold this position, and he remained in this post until 1996. Thomas later became head of the TFF Study Group, which assists development in southern Africa. In 2001 he chaired the board that directed the activities of the September 11th Fund and the September 11th Telethon Fund Thomas is an advisor to the Secretary General of ...