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Ballance, Frank Winston, Jr.  

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 ...


Bishop, Sanford Dixon, Jr.  

Adam W. Green

politician, was born in Mobile, Alabama, to Sanford Dixon Bishop, an educational administrator and first president of Bishop State Community College, and Minnie Bethany Slade Bishop, a librarian. When he was seven years old, the family moved to Toulminville, a transitional neighborhood in Mobile for poor and working-class whites, where a black subdivision had been built. The Deep South's segregation and hostility were not foreign to Bishop growing up: The Ku Klux Klan had been active with cross-burnings in the district, and the new black community began a neighborhood watch. As a youth, Bishop was heavily involved with the Boy Scouts, later becoming an Eagle Scout and member of the Order of the Arrow, the Scouts' honor society.

Bishop s schools Booker T Washington Junior High for blacks and Central High School for whites were segregated and the second hand textbooks and supplements were not ideal for the son ...


Burke, Yvonne Brathwaite  

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 ...


Burke, Yvonne Brathwaite  

Lisa Clayton Robinson

“I visualize a time within the next ten years when we should have fifty black congressmen … It's just a matter of time until we have a black governor and yes, a black president.” In this 1974Ebony magazine interview, Congresswoman Yvonne Braithwaite Burke outlined her hopes for the political future of African Americans—a future her own career helped bring closer to reality. Born Yvonne Watson in South Central Los Angeles, Burke attended the University of California at Berkeley and the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). After graduating from the University of Southern California Law School in 1956, she began a private law practice, and was appointed to the 1965 commission that investigated the Watts Riot of 1965.

A year later Burke was elected to the first of three terms in the California assembly becoming the state s first black assemblywoman In the state assembly ...


Butterfield, G. K.  

Jason Philip Miller

politician, was born George Kenneth Butterfield in Wilson, North Carolina, to Addie Davis, a schoolteacher, and George Kenneth Butterfield Sr., a dentist. The family was prominent in the local African American community, and Butterfield's father was the first African American in the twentieth century to hold a seat on the Wilson city council.

Butterfield attended local schools, including Charles H. Darden High School, from which he graduated in 1967. He matriculated to North Carolina Central University in Durham, pursuing bachelors degrees in sociology and political science, in the meantime serving in the U.S. Army for two years. Butterfield graduated from N.C. Central in 1971. He remained at that institution to earn his JD in 1974, after which he embarked on a career in law.

Following graduation Butterfield returned to Wilson and there maintained a private law practice through which he gained a reputation for ...


Crockett, George  

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 ...


Crockett, George William Jr.  

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 ...


Crockett, George William, Jr.  

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 ...


Cummings, Elijah  

Elijah Eugene Cummings was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He became a member of Phi Beta Kappa and earned a B.A. degree from Howard University in 1973. He graduated from the University of Maryland Law School in 1976. In 1982 Cummings was elected as a delegate to the Maryland General Assembly. In 1984, at age thirty-three, he became the youngest person ever to chair the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus. In January 1995 Cummings was elected by his colleagues to serve as speaker pro tem of the House of Delegates.

When Representative Kweisi Mfume announced in December 1995 that he would retire from the U.S. House to lead the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Cummings, along with twenty-six other Democratic candidates, prepared for the March 1996 special primary election Cummings won the primary with thirty seven percent of the vote an impressive margin ...


Cummings, Elijah E.  

Daryl A. Carter

congressman, was born Elijah Eugene Cummings in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Robert Cummings, a chemical plant worker, and Ruth Cummings, a homemaker. A product of a working-class family in West Baltimore, Cummings did well in high school, serving in student government as president of his senior class. He graduated from Baltimore City College High School in 1969. After high school Cummings was accepted into Howard University in Washington, D.C. There, Cummings developed an interest in politics and law and continued his participation in student government as sophomore class president, treasurer, and president. In fact, Cummings did so well academically that he was a recipient of the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa key. After graduating in 1973 with a B.A. in Political Science, Cummings returned to Maryland, where he enrolled in law school at the University of Maryland. In 1976 Cummings received his J D and entered ...


Davis, Artur  

SaFiya D. Hoskins

U.S.congressman, was born Artur Genestre Davis in Montgomery, Alabama, and raised in a religious home by his grandmother (name unknown) and mother (name unknown), the latter an employee of the Montgomery County school system for thirty years. Davis lived a humble life on the lower-income west side of Montgomery. Upon graduating from Jefferson Davis High School with honors, he left his hometown to attend Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In 1990 he graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree in government from Harvard and then began graduate studies at Harvard University Law School. During his tenure at Harvard he made the acquaintance of Barack Obama, the future president of the United States. Obama, then attending Harvard Law School and president of the Harvard Law Review delivered a speech to students that made a lasting impression on Davis the two men soon became friends As a ...


Ellison, Keith M.  

Daryl A. Carter

congressman and the first Muslim to serve in the U.S. Congress, was born Keith Maurice Ellison in Detroit, Michigan, the third of five sons Clida Ellison, a social worker, and Leonard Ellison, a psychiatrist. The Ellison family was upwardly mobile, part of the rising black professional class of the post–World War II era, which sought to increase African American participation in the nation's civic life. His parents and his grandfather were active in the civil rights movement. Ellison graduated from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy in 1981 There he got his first taste of politics participating in student government In addition Ellison was active in sports Following his graduation he enrolled at Wayne State University in Detroit Michigan Ellison s time in college was transformational as he dispensed with the Roman Catholicism of his youth and converted to Islam This choice reflected the ...


Espy, Michael  

Boyd Childress

first African American congressman from Mississippi since Reconstruction and first black U.S. secretary of agriculture. An outspoken advocate for Mississippi's poorest region since the 1980s, Mike Espy was born to Henry and Willie Jean Espy of Yazoo City, Mississippi, and has lived a life of firsts. One of four students initially integrated into Yazoo City High School, he graduated from Howard University in 1975. After earning a JD from Santa Clara University in 1978, he returned to Mississippi to help in his family's flourishing chain of funeral home businesses—Century Funeral Home—the state's largest black-owned business.

Espy worked briefly for Central Mississippi Legal Services and later served under the Mississippi secretary of state Ed Pittman campaigning for Pittman s election as attorney general Espy held several state government positions including assistant secretary of state attorney general assistant secretary of public lands and assistant state attorney general retaining his deep ...


Espy, Michael Alphonso  

Richard T. IV Middleton

secretary of agriculture in the cabinet of President Bill Clinton; U.S. congressman, and attorney, was born in Yazoo City, Mississippi, the son of Henry Espy and Willie Jean Espy, prominent owners of a chain of funeral homes. A member of New Hope Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi, Espy was married to Portia Denise Ballard on 17 April 1999. The couple had three children: Jamillla Morgan, Michael William, and Ian Michael Espy. Upon graduating from Howard University in Washington, D.C., with his BA in Law, in 1975 he matriculated at the University of Santa Clara School of Law in Santa Clara, California, where he received his juris doctorate degree in 1978. Espy went on to teach at the prestigious Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and Stanford Law School, as well as many other institutions of higher education across the country.

In Mississippi Espy ...


Fields, Cleo  

Kristen L. Rouse

politician and community leader, was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the seventh of ten children. When Cleo was four years old, Isadore, his father, a dockworker, died in an accident while driving home from working a double shift, leaving his mother, Alice, alone to support the family. Unable to pay the rent, the family was evicted. Alice moved the family to a new house and worked days as a hotel maid, and in the evenings she did laundry to make ends meet.

Fields grew up in East Baton Rouge a community that had been integral in the struggle for civil rights Fields and his siblings attended McKinley High School the first secondary school for African Americans in the historically segregated city During the years that Fields attended the school the district remained embroiled in the longest running desegregation case in U S history which finally culminated in a ...


Ford, Harold Eugene  

Harold Eugene Ford was born in Memphis, Tennessee. He received a bachelor's degree from Tennessee State University in 1967, a degree in mortuary science from John Gupton College in 1969, and a master's degree from Howard University in 1982. He worked as a funeral director in his family's business. Ford was elected to the Tennessee state House of Representatives in 1971 and became known for his fiery speeches and good organizing skills. In 1974 he defeated Republican incumbent Dan H. Kuykendall by fewer than 1,000 votes to win Tennessee's Ninth Congressional District seat. The Ninth District, which consists of most of Memphis and a few suburbs, became a black-majority district in 1976, and Ford won all his reelection campaigns by comfortable margins.

Early in his House career Ford was given a seat on the Ways and Means Committee and became chairperson of the Human Resources ...


Ford, Harold Eugene, Jr.  

Michaeljulius Idani

politician, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, son of Harold Ford Sr., a U.S. Congressman, and Dorothy Bowles, an employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Harold Jr. was the oldest of five children: brothers Jake, Isaac, and Andrew, and sister Ava. The Ford family was an institution in the Memphis area; schools, churches, roads, and buildings were named after family members. They ran a successful funeral services business and were active in the civil rights movement and the cause of social justice. Besides his father, two of Ford's uncles were also politicians: John, a local councilman, and Emmitt, who succeeded Ford's father as a member of the Tennessee state legislature.

From an early age Ford expressed an interest in politics. In 1979 Ford s family moved to Washington D C where he attended St Albans School an exclusive school for boys In ...


Ford, Harold Eugene, Sr.  

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 ...


Ford, Harold, Jr  

Shantel Agnew

attorney and U.S. congressman. Harold Eugene Ford Jr. was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to Harold E. Ford Sr., a U.S. representative, and Dorothy Ford. He got his start in politics at the age of four, when he made a radio commercial for his father's 1974 campaign for Congress demanding better schools, better housing, and lower cookie prices. Ford attended Saint Albans School for Boys in Washington, D.C. In 1992 he earned a bachelor's degree in American history from the University of Pennsylvania and a JD with honors from the University of Michigan Law School in 1996. In 1992 Ford worked as a special assistant for the Bill Clinton and Al Gore Transition Team and in 1993 for the Economic Development Administration under the leadership of U S secretary of commerce Ronald Brown Ford also was an aide to the Senate Budget Committee under U S ...


Ford, Harold, Jr.  

Harold Ford, Jr., was born in Memphis, Tennessee. He received a bachelor's degree in American history from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in 1992 and a law degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1996.

Ford's political career began in 1992, when he served as special assistant for justice and civil rights issues for President-elect Bill Clinton. He was also an assistant to Tennessee Senator Jim Sasser on the Senate Budget Committee. In both 1992 and 1994 he managed the successful reelection campaigns of his father, Harold E. Ford, who represented Tennessee's Ninth Congressional District. In 1993 the younger Ford worked for U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown as a special assistant to the Economic Development Administration. Three years later he was elected to the U.S. House from Tennessee's Ninth Congressional District. When he took office in January of 1997 ...