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Adam W. Green

United Statescongressman, was the third child born to Frank Winston Ballance, a sharecropper, and Alice Eason Ballance, a homemaker and care worker. Ballance was born and raised on a farm in Windsor, eastern North Carolina, part of the rural tobacco farming communities of the impoverished and segregated Bertie County. Ballance learned at an early age the import of fighting for civil rights; his mother was heavily involved in black voter registration drives when he was a child. After graduating W.S. Etheridge High School in 1959, he moved to attend North Carolina Central University in Durham.

In college, Ballance became involved in marches and sit-ins in the city, including ones aimed at larger department stores like Woolworth's. After receiving his B.A. in 1963, he remained at the university to study law. In 1965 he taught law at South Carolina State College but the following ...

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Monika R. Alston

U.S. congresswoman, was born in Jacksonville, Florida, where she lived from childhood through her high school years. Brown has not made much information about her early years, her parents, or her personal life known. In 1965 she gave birth to her only daughter, Shantrel, the same year she began college. Brown received a BS in 1969 and a master's degree in Education in 1971 from Florida A&M University. She earned an education specialist degree from the University of Florida in 1974. From 1977 to 1982 Brown worked as a faculty member and guidance counselor at Florida Community College in Jacksonville.As a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. at Florida A&M, Brown became close friends with her sorority sister Gwendolyn Sawyer-Cherry, who was the first African American woman to serve in the Florida state legislature. Sawyer-Cherry influenced Brown to enter politics and after Brown lost her ...

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Melina Abdullah

politician and attorney, was born Perle Yvonne Watson, the only child to James Watson, a janitor, and Lola (maiden name unknown), a real estate broker, in Los Angeles, California. Her parents migrated to Los Angeles in 1921 from Paris, Texas, where her father had been a farmer and her mother worked as a teacher. Difficulties in Texas caused her parents to move west. Upon arrival in California her father took up work as a janitor for Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) Studios and later became a labor organizer. Her mother left her teaching career to become a real estate broker.

Throughout her life Burke was exposed to art, drama, and music, developing a deep appreciation for culture. It was her father's work as a labor organizer, however, that helped to politicize her. James Watson was a charter member of the Building Service Employees International Union later the Service ...

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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 ...

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Leonard Schlup

Henry Plummer Cheatham was born near Henderson, Granville (now Vance) County, North Carolina, the son of a house slave about whom little is known. He attended local public schools and worked on farms during the 1860s and 1870s before graduating with honors from Shaw University in 1882. He became principal of the Plymouth Normal School for Negroes, a state-supported institution, and held this position from 1882 until 1884. He returned to Henderson and, after the retirement of the white Republican incumbent, won election as Vance County registrar of deeds, serving in this capacity from 1885 to 1888. During this time he also studied law, though he never established a practice.

Cheatham's career in national politics began in 1888. Unable to agree on a single candidate, delegates to the Republican convention for the Second Congressional District, the so-called “Black Second,” nominated both Cheatham and George A Mebane ...

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Daniel A. Dalrymple

Chisholm made a career out of breaking down barriers. She was both the first black woman to be elected to United States Congress and the first woman or African American to mount a serious run at a major party’s nomination for president. Chisholm forged a strong reputation for doing things her own way, spurning both the New York Democratic political machine and political decorum. Despite the obstacles that came with bucking the system, Chisholm always held her ground on important issues such as abortion, women’s rights, and civil rights.

Chisholm was born the eldest of three sisters to West Indian parents, Charles St. Hill and Ruby Seale in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn New York Shirley s father worked as a baker s helper and later a factory hand and her mother found employment as a seamstress However Hill and Seale quickly realized that their wages were insufficient ...

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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 ...

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Patricia E. Canson

U.S. congresswoman, was born Shirley St. Hill in Brooklyn, New York, the eldest daughter of Charles St. Hill, a laborer born in British Guiana (now Guyana), and Ruby Seale, a seamstress born in Barbados. Shirley's first three years were spent in Brownsville, a predominantly Jewish area of Brooklyn. Finding the wages for unskilled factory work insufficient to care for three children properly, the St. Hills sent their three daughters to Barbados, where they lived with their maternal grandparents on the family farm. Shirley credits her grandmother Emily Seale with instilling in her a strong character and determination.

The girls returned to Brownsville in 1934 after their mother gave birth to another daughter Despite the social and financial hardships of the Depression Ruby encouraged her children to respect the values of civility thrift poise humility education and spirituality though the sisters endured a substantial amount of teasing in the ...

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politician, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the fourth of seven children born to Irving Clay, a welder, and Luella (Hyatt) Clay, a homemaker. Growing up in a run-down tenement house with no indoor toilet, Clay would later note that a severe lack of basic facilities were afforded to the disenfranchised in the heavily black city, where thousands of residents lived in abject squalor, “just blocks from the downtown business district” (Clay, A Political Voice, p. 11).

While Clay attended St. Nicholas Catholic School, a black parochial school near his house, he worked as well, delivering newspapers at eight years old and selling scrap metal during World War II. By the time he was twelve, he was working at the Good Luck Store, a downtown retail men's clothing store, full-time during the summer and part-time during the school year.

Clay attributed his political awakening and activism to ...

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Monika R. Alston

first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress from North Carolina, was born Eva McPherson in Chatham County, Georgia. The daughter of Thomas McPherson, an insurance agent, and Josephine Martin, a teacher, Eva attended Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, and earned her bachelor of science degree in Biology in 1955. In 1956 she married Theaoseus Clayton, also an alumnus of Johnson C. Smith. The Claytons had four children: Joanne, Theaoseus Jr., Martin, and Reuben.

Following their marriage both Eva Clayton and her husband pursued graduate degrees at North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina. Theaoseus received his law degree in 1961, and Eva earned her master's of science in Biology and General Science in 1962 The young couple moved to Warrenton North Carolina where Theaoseus established himself as a lawyer and both became active ...

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Benjamin T. Zeigler

Congressman from South Carolina's Sixth District, was born in Sumter County, South Carolina, the son of Enos Lloyd Clyburn and Almeta (Dizzley) Clyburn. Clyburn's parents met while his mother was attending Mather Academy, a private secondary school for African Americans in Camden, South Carolina. Clyburn's father was a minister in the Church of God, and, after marrying James's mother Almeta, he accepted the pastorate of a church in Sumter, South Carolina, which would allow both him and his wife to attend Morris College in Sumter. Clyburn would later describe both his parents as having a “tremendous thirst for education,” and he would credit their commitment to learning and their struggles to obtain college degrees as the inspiration behind his lifelong dedication to seeking equal opportunities for South Carolinians and Americans in general (interview with James Clyburn, 20 Nov. 2006).

Clyburn s mother finished Morris College in three years ...

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Mary Krane Derr

U.S.Congresswoman, was born Cardiss Hortense Robertson in Saint Louis, Missouri. She was the only child of Rosie and Finley Robertson, a domestic worker and a manual laborer, respectively. Cardiss's parents came from two different families with the same surname of Robertson. Rosie Robertson grew up on the Whiteville, Tennessee, farm of her great-grandfather, an ex-slave named Erastus White. Cardiss's parents separated during her infancy. Cardiss and her mother were so poor that their two-room apartment lacked a gas stove and refrigerator. They moved to Detroit when Cardiss was ten.

After graduating from the Detroit High School of Commerce, Cardiss moved to her maternal grandmother's home in Chicago. Initially a mattress factory seamstress, she eventually worked as stenographer for a carnival equipment business and then the Illinois Department of Labor. Attending night school courses at Northwestern University for twelve years, she achieved a business certificate in 1966 ...

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Adam W. Green

United States congressman, was born in the poor North Side Chicago neighborhood of what would later be known as Cabrini-Green to Washington and Leanna Collins. Collins graduated from Waller High School in 1943, and immediately entered the armed forces as a private. He served for three years in the army, stationed with the Engineer Corps in the South Pacific until he was discharged as a sergeant in 1946. Upon returning to the states, Collins entered Central Y.M.C.A. College in Chicago, and graduated in 1954, going on to receive his business law degree from Northwestern University three years later.

Collins began his career in civil service and involvement in the Chicago Democratic Party machine in the 1950s while still in graduate school. He was appointed precinct captain in 1954 for Chicago s 24th Ward on the West Side and later served as deputy sheriff of Cook ...

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Fred Lindsey

U.S. congressman, was born in Detroit, Michigan, the first of five children of John Conyers Sr., a factory auto painter who became an international representative for the United Automobile Workers, and Lucille Simpson. John Conyers Sr.'s progressive politics proved a major influence on his son's life and career. Conyers grew up in a predominantly Italian American neighborhood in East Detroit and graduated from the city's Samson Elementary School in 1943, the year of a major race riot in the city. The riot and his father's political activism shaped Conyers's political consciousness, but his primary interest as a teenager was jazz. An accomplished trumpet player, he included among his friends in high school Sonny Stitt, Milt Jackson, and Betty Carter who all pursued careers in music Unchallenged by his school work Conyers spent much of his time in pool halls when not playing music He ...

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Joseph Wilson

a leading African American attorney, judge, and congressman from Detroit, Michigan. Born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, George Crockett graduated from Morehouse College and the University of Michigan Law School. Subsequently he started a law practice and later was a cofounder of the National Lawyers Guild, the nation's first racially integrated lawyers' organization which he then served as vice president. In 1939, Crockett became the first African American attorney in the United States Department of Labor and, later, in the Federal Employment Practices Commission. In 1943, he directed the United Auto Workers' Fair Practices Commission, which sought to prevent white workers from engaging in “hate” strikes designed to bar black workers from working in auto plants.

In 1946 in Detroit, he helped form the country's first integrated law firm (Goodman, Eden, Crockett and Robb) and served as a partner until 1966. In 1949 Crockett was sentenced ...

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Born in Jacksonville, Florida, George William Crockett, Jr. graduated with a B.A. degree from Morehouse College in 1931 and a law degree from the University of Michigan in 1934. After several years in private practice, in 1939 he became the first African American lawyer at the U.S. Department of Labor. Beginning in 1943 Crockett served as a hearing examiner for the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), a federal agency that attempted to secure more jobs for African Americans in wartime industries. His work with the FEPC led to a position as head of the United Auto Worker's Fair Practices Committee, which sought to eliminate racism in factories.

Throughout his long career Crockett acted according to his often-unpopular beliefs, which led to occasional controversy. In 1949, while once again in private practice (as a founding partner in the first law firm with an integrated partnership in Detroit Michigan ...

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Mary Krane Derr

U.S.Congressman, educator, and public administrator, was born in rural Parkdale, Ashley County, Arkansas, to low-income sharecroppers Hezekiah “H. D.” Davis and Mazzie L. Glass Davis, who had four other sons and seven daughters. Danny Davis grew up in and remained in the Missionary Baptist Church. Although known in adulthood for his distinctive, eloquent orator's voice, as a child he stuttered. His teachers, especially Mrs. Beadie King, and his family elders encouraged his enjoyment of reading and learning. Danny Davis attended segregated public schools and graduated from Parkdale's Savage High School in 1957.

Majoring in history and minoring in education, he earned a B.A. from Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical, & Normal College (later the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) in 1961 In college he found inspiration in the student activities of the African American civil rights movement Davis and six of his siblings ...

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Willie Strong

(b Anniston, AL, Sept 23, 1899; d Montgomery, AL, May 2, 1990). American composer and choral conductor. He first heard black American folksongs as a child in rural Alabama. At the age of 15 he left home to attend the Tuskegee Institute, where he studied the piano and composition, and participated in the band and choir. After his graduation he moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where he played the trombone in local jazz ensembles and on the Redpath Chautaugua circuit (1921). During this period he taught music at Kansas Vocational College (Topeka, 1921–2) and Lincoln High School (Kansas City, 1922–7), and obtained the BMus degree from the Horner Institute of Fine Arts, Kansas City (1925).

After moving to Chicago where he played the bass with jazz performers such as Louis and Lillian Armstrong Johnny Dodds and Earl Hines ...

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Robert Fay

William Levi Dawson became one of Chicago's most influential politicians, serving as an elected representative and a political power broker in that city, each a rarity for African Americans of his generation. In this way he parallels the rising significance of African Americans in Democratic politics of the twentieth century.

Dawson was born in Albany, Georgia. In 1912, three years after he graduated magna cum laude from Fisk University in Tennessee, he moved to Chicago to study law at Northwestern University. He interrupted his legal studies to serve in World War I (1914–1919), rising to the rank of captain after twice sustaining injuries, once in a mustard gas attack. Returning to Chicago, Dawson finished at Northwestern and entered into local politics. In 1942, after serving as alderman on the Chicago City Council, Dawson successfully ran for Congress, holding his seat until his death in 1970 ...

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Thaddeus Russell

congressman, was born in Albany, Georgia, the son of Levi Dawson, a barber, and Rebecca Kendrick. Dawson received his early education in Albany, then attended Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, and received a bachelor's degree in 1909.

In 1912 Dawson joined thousands of other African Americans migrating to Chicago. Hoping to become one of the few black professionals in the city, he enrolled at the Kent School of Law. In 1917 he interrupted his law studies to volunteer for military service in World War I. He served as a first lieutenant with the 365th Infantry in France, where he was wounded in the shoulder and gassed during the Meuse-Argonne campaign.

After the war Dawson resumed his legal studies at Northwestern Law School and was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1920. Two years later he married Nellie Brown with whom he had two children He ...