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Kweisi Mfume rose from a troubled childhood in Maryland to become a five-term U.S. congressman. On February 15, 1996, the Baltimore native took the reins of the NAACP because he felt he could better advance African-American civil rights from that vantage point.

Born Frizzell Gray on Oct. 24, 1948, the future politician dropped out of high school after the death of his mother to work and support his family. Raised without his father, Mfume took to the streets and fathered several children during this period. However, he went on to earn a GED and then matriculated at the Community College of Baltimore County. It was there he developed an interest in civil rights and politics, and eventually headed the Black Student Union there.

Mfume continued his journey at Morgan State University, graduating magna cum laude and then earning a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. While in school that he changed his name, which translates from Ghanaian to “conquering son of kings.”

In 1978, Mfume was elected to the Baltimore City Council, serving from 1979 to 1986. He was telected to Congress and served as the Congressional Black Caucus chairman during his fourth term. He earned the reputation of being a solid orator and stern politician.

However, he felt that heading the NAACP would grant him a greater opportunity to spark change in the African-American community. He left Congress to lead the NAACP as its president and CEO until 2004. During his tenure, Mfume brought the organization out of debt and raised its national and global profile tremendously before stepping down to pursue other endeavors.

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