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Born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1888, John B. Summers was the son and grandson of AME ministers. Raised in a prominent family, Summers moved to Philadelphia in 1918 to work as an inspector at Hog Island Shipyard. In the decades that followed, Summers worked behind the scenes to advance Black Philadelphians politically and witnessed their switch from Republican to Democrat Parties in the 1930s. During the Great Depression, he began a long and successful career as a labor organizer for the CIO.