Booker T. Washington is one of the most controversial and dominant figures in African American history. According to his autobiography Up From Slavery (1901), he did not know the exact year, date, and place of his birth or his father’s name. Yet, it is widely understood that he was born enslaved on April 5, 1856 in Hale's Ford, Virginia . His mother’s name was Jane and his father was a white man from a nearby plantation. At the age of 9, Washington was freed from slavery and moved to West Virginia. He had always been known as simply “Booker” until he decided to add the name “Washington” after feeling the pressure to have two names when he started grammar school.
At the age of 16, Washington began college at the Hampton Normal and Agriculture Institute in Hampton , Virginia. He also attended Wayland Seminary from 1878 to 1879 before returning to teach at Hampton. As a result of a recommendation from Hampton officials, he became the first principal of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now Tuskegee University), which opened on July 4, 1881; he remained in this capacity until his death in 1915.
A native of Houston, Texas, Emmett J. Scott garnered a reputation as Booker T. Washington’s chief aide. He was also the highest ranking African American in the Woodrow Wilson’s Administration. The son of ex-slaves, Scott was born in 1873. In 1887, he entered Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, eventually leaving school in his third year. Soon he worked at the Houston Post, first as a sexton, and later as a copyboy and journalist. In 1893 Scott, along with Charles N. Love and Jack Tibbit, formed the Texas Freeman, Houston’s first African American newspaper. Scott also worked for Galveston, Texas, politician and labor leader, Norris W. Cuney.
Scott caught the attention of Booker T. Washington, who hired him in 1897. For the next eighteen years, Scott served Washington as a confidant, personal secretary, speech writer, and ghostwriter; in 1912, he became Tuskegee’s treasurer-secretary. Scott advocated Washington’s philosophy of constructive accommodation over immediate social integration. Scott and New York Age editor T. Thomas Fortune helped Washington found the National Negro Business League (NNBL) in 1900.
Born in Virginia in 1854, Olivia A. Davidson, the daughter of an ex-slave and freeborn mother, was the seventh of ten children. The family moved from Virginia to southern Ohio in 1857, then moved to the northern part of the state in Albany and Athens after her father’s death. The later move had a significant influence on her development as she attended the Enterprise Academy, which was owned, operated, and controlled by African American educators. Also, the Albany area was a focal point for anti-slavery sentiment, the site for three routes of the Underground Railroad, and it provided Davidson with the opportunity to interact with many Oberlin College graduates and faculty as well as African American activists.
Over the past seven decades the exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen have been celebrated, occasionally mythologized, and used as a recent reminder of the patriotism and heroism of African Americans in times of national crisis. Mounting pressure by black leaders such as union activist A Philip Randolph, NAACP chief executive Walter F. White, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and the black press to increase their presence in all branches of military service eventually persuaded a reluctant War Department to allow for the training of blacks as fighter pilots (initially no training for bomber crews) at an isolated field at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, thus preempting contact with white trainees.
Acting on the presumption that rural southern blacks were generally more promiscuous and syphilitic than whites, and without sufficient funding to establish an effective treatment program for them, doctors working with the Public Health Service (PHS) commenced a multi-year experiment in 1932. Their actions deprived 400 largely uneducated and poor African Americans in Tuskegee, Alabama of proper and reasonable treatment for syphilis, a disease whose symptoms could easily have been relieved with the application of penicillin which became available in the 1940s. Patients were not told they had syphilis nor were they provided sufficient medication to cure them. More than 100 men died due to lack of treatment while others suffered insanity, blindness and chronic maladies related to the disease.
John Carter Leftwich was born on June 6, 1867 in Forkland, Alabama. The first son of Frances Edge and Lloyd Leftwich, one of Alabama’s last black Reconstruction Era state senators, John graduated from Selma University in 1890. As a young man, Leftwich held a deep admiration for Booker T. Washington, and wrote to him constantly for aid and advice. In 1897, possibly with Washington’s support, Leftwich was appointed Alabama’s Receiver of Public Money by President William McKinley. During this time Leftwich also founded an all-black town named Klondike. In 1902, however, Leftwich lost the support of Washington. Later that year Alabama blacks were disfranchised. These events led Leftwich to migrate to Oklahoma Territory to begin anew.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1884, Saint Elmo Brady became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in the field of chemistry when he completed his graduate studies at the University of Illinois in 1916. The eldest child of Thomas and Celesta Brady, Saint Elmo had two younger sisters, Fedora and Buszeder.
Brady studied chemistry at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee and earned his B.S. degree in 1908. After graduation he accepted a faculty position at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now known as Tuskegee University) and was mentored by George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington, President of Tuskegee. He began graduate studies in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Illinois in 1912, earning his M.S. degree in 1914 and completing his doctorate in 1916. As a graduate student at Illinois, Brady’s research focused on the characterization of organic acids. Brady eventually published three abstracts focused on his graduate work in Science, a prestigious peer-reviewed journal.
Robert Russa Moton was born on the William Vaughan Plantation in 1867 in Prince Edward County, Virginia. Moton attended the local freedman’s school and eventually went on to college at the Hampton Institute (now called Hampton University).
At Hampton Institute Moton distinguished himself academically and after graduation was appointed the school’s Commandant in charge of military discipline, a post he held for 25 years. Moton also became a Hampton fundraiser, traveling north to lecture on the school’s programs.
In 1915, Moton left the Hampton Institute to accept a post as Tuskegee Institute as its second president after the death of founder Booker T. Washington. Soon after his arrival Moton began to expand the Institute’s academic programs, adding a new department to educate future black school teachers. He also initiated the construction of what would become the Tuskegee Veterans Administration Hospital which would treat African American World War I veterans. Despite local white opposition, Moton insisted that the federal hospital be staffed by black doctors, nurses, and administrators.
Burks was inspired to form the organization after a traffic dispute involving a white woman resulted in her arrest. In response she created a community organization that would teach local African Americans their constitutional rights and stimulate voter registration among them. Within a week Burks found forty women to join the organization, which they named the Women’s Political Council. They focused their efforts on the three areas of political action: education, and protest of segregated services. Burks was elected as the organization’s first president, a position she held for the next four years.
By the 1950s the WPC had become one of the most active civil rights organizations in Montgomery. All three hundred of its members were registered to vote, which was a significant accomplishment for African American women at the time.
James Thomas Rapier was a Republican representative from the state of Alabama elected to the 43rd United States Congress. Rapier was born on November 13, 1837 in Florence, Alabama and attended high school in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1856 at the age of 19 he traveled to attend the King School in Buxton, Canada, an experimental black community. There, along with his education he experienced a religious conversion and decided to devote his life to helping southern blacks. Rapier also attended the University of Glasgow and Franklin College in Nashville before receiving a teaching certificate in 1863.
Rapier moved to Maury County, Tennessee and in 1865 started campaigning for African American suffrage. He delivered the keynote address at the Tennessee Negro Suffrage Convention in Nashville that same year. When the movement saw no success he took up cotton farming in his home town of Florence, Alabama and became successful.
The widow of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King became a forceful public figure and important leader in the civil rights movement. She made numerous contributions to the struggle for social justice and human rights throughout her life.
Coretta Scott was born the second of three children to Obadiah Scott and Bernice McMurray Scott in Heiberger, Alabama on April 27, 1927. She spent her childhood nearby on a farm owned by her family since the Civil War. During the Depression, Coretta and her siblings picked cotton in order to help support the family. This appeared to be the beginning of her determination to further her education.
“Coretta Scott King, 78, Widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dies” The New York Times (31 January 2006); Coretta Scott King, My Life with Martin Luther King Jr. (New York: Holt, 1969; rev.ed., Henry Holt, 1993); http://www.civilrightsleader.com/coretta_scott_king.htm.
Alabama Congressman Artur Davis was born on October 9, 1967 in Montgomery, Alabama. He received his degree Magna Cum Laude from Harvard University in 1990 and Cum Laude from Harvard Law School in 1993. His academic career led way for his professional career as an attorney.
After graduate school, Davis received a clerkship with Judge Myron F. Thompson, one of the first black judges on the federal bench in Alabama. Davis worked as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama from 1994 to1998, fighting drugs and violence. In 1998, he worked as a litigator in private practice.
In 2002, Davis was elected Congressman of the 7th Congressional District in Alabama which includes Birmingham and counties in south-central Alabama. He was overwhelmingly reelected in 2004 and 2006. Davis was appointed to the Ways and Means committee, which oversees economic policy including tax law, trade policy, health care and Social Security. He is the tenth Alabamian to serve on this committee. Davis also serves on the Judiciary Committee, which covers immigration and criminal systems.
During his first term, Davis worked to reverse funding cuts for minority colleges like Tuskegee University and Alabama A&M. In his second term he worked to renovate public housing with the HOPE VI program.
Attorney, civil rights and human rights activist, Fred D. Gray, was born on December 14, 1930 in Montgomery, Alabama to Nancy and Abraham Gray. The youngest of five children, he and his siblings were raised in a shotgun house in a segregated black section of the city.
In 1947, Gray attended the Nashville Christian Institute. After completing seminary, he enrolled at Alabama State College, where he paid for his education by working as a district manager of the Alabama Journal. In 1951, Gray entered law school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He earned his degree in 1954 and opened a law office in his hometown of Montgomery.
Fred Gray, Bus Ride to Justice: Changing the System by the System (Montgomery, Alabama: Black Belt Press, 1995). Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); http://www.fredgray.net/background.html.
Birmingham Public Library Digital Collection: http://www.bplonline.org/resources/Digital_Project/SixteenthStBaptistBomb.asp; NPR Forty Years Later, Birmingham Still Struggles with Violent Past, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1431932.
The Dexter Avenue Baptist Church was built in 1883 on the corner of Dexter Avenue and Decatur Street, in Montgomery Alabama. The church served as a meeting place and planning hub for some of the most influential actions of the Civil Rights movement throughout the first half of the twentieth century.
The Dexter Avenue Church was built on a lot facing the Alabama State Capitol, on the site of a former slave trading pen. The choice of location, and the church’s refusal to move despite consistent threats from the white community, marked a tacit defiance of Jim Crow segregation and an early bend towards activism.
The church sponsored annual lecture series throughout the early decades of the twentieth century that featured prominent African American leaders. Sunday school focused on Bible study, literature and music to the youth of the community. A vibrant missionary society in the early 1900s that fostered education, community welfare, and a joint anti-lynching campaign with the NAACP in 1920 led to a break with strictly accommodationists practices.
Samuel C. Hyde Jr., ed., Sunbelt Revolution: The Historical Progression
of the Civil Rights Struggle in the Gulf South, 1866-2000 (Gainesville:
University Press of Florida, 2003); Charles E. Fager, Selma, 1965: The
March that Changed the South (Boston: Beacon Press, 1974); Adam
Fairclough, Better Day Coming: Blacks and Equality 1890-2000 (New York:
Viking, 2001); Irwin T. Sanders and Rhoda Lois Blumberg, eds., Social
Movements Past and Present: Civil Rights: The 1960s Freedom Struggle
(Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1984)
On June 1, 1956, all NAACP offices in Alabama were forced to close, as a result of Attorney General John Patterson’s nine-year injunction against the civil rights organization. This left a void in local civil rights leadership and a desperate need for a new group to lead Birmingham’s black community in its campaign to end unfair treatment from whites. Recognizing this need, local black leaders called a mass meeting at Sardis Baptist Church. Approximately 1,000 people attended and created the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Its mission was to fight for freedom, democracy and first class citizenship for Birmingham blacks. Unlike the NAACP, they vowed to attain their goals through direct action and to test the validity of Jim Crow laws through the courts.
Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth was appointed as president of the ACMHR. He was known for tirelessly pushing reforms for blacks and placing his members and himself in danger to attain them. The group’s goals included hiring black policemen, integrating Birmingham's public schools, and desegregating all public accommodations.
Andrew M. Manis, A Fire You Can’t Put Out: The Civil Rights Life of
Birmingham’s Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth (Tuscaloosa: University of
Alabama Press, 1999). David J. Garrow, Birmingham, Alabama, 1956-1963:
The Black Struggle for Civil Rights (Brooklyn, NY.: Carlson Publishing
Charles Wade Barkley, born on February 20, 1963 in Leeds, Alabama will always be known for his excellent performance on the basketball court, but he is also trying to become known as a politician. In 2014, Barkley will run as the Independent candidate for Governor of the state of Alabama.
Charles Barkley played college basketball at Auburn University between 1982 and 1984. In 1984 he joined the National Basketball Association (NBA) as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. Barkley played sixteen years in the NBA, mostly for the Phoenix Suns. He retired in 2000 from the Houston Rockets.
Barkley has always been very well aware of political issues and has decided to address them by holding office. Since he was born and raised in Alabama and attended college at Auburn University, he believes his political future is in that state.
Barkley first seriously considered running for Governor in 1995 in anticipation of the 1998 gubernatorial election. He learned however that he needed to be a resident of Alabama for seven years before running for the top office in the state. Barkley returned permanently to Alabama in 2006 to start planning his run for Governor in 2014.
Charles Barkley and Michael Wilbon, I May Be Wrong but I Doubt It (New
York: Random House, 2002); Campbell Brown, "Transcript: Charles Barkley
tells Brown 'racism is a cancer' - CNN.com." CNN.com - Breaking News,
U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News.
Barkley? Sir Charles eyeing office in Alabama," ESPN: The Worldwide
Leader In Sports, http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=2531022.
The Knights of Peter Claver organization was founded in 1909 in Mobile, Alabama. It is the largest African American Catholic lay organization in the United States. The organization was founded by the Josephites, a Catholic order whose mission was to serve Catholic African Americans. Josephite leaders were concerned that the Church would lose its African American members to other organizations, such as the Elks and the Masons, who had black lodges, if they did not have their own fraternal Catholic organization.
By 1910, the Knights of Peter Claver had branches in Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia; Nashville, Tennessee; and several towns in Mississippi. They later spread to the North as well and became a national presence by 1946.
Nina Mjagkij, Organizing Black America (New York, NY: Garland
Publishing Inc., 2001); Charles D. Lowry and John F. Marszalek,
Encyclopedia of African-American Civil Rights: from Emancipation to the
Present (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992); www.kofpc.org.
The first person of African descent, male or female, to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics was Vonetta Flowers when she won gold in the women's bobsled event in 2002 at Salt Lake City.
http://www.vonettaflowers.com; Vonetta Flowers with W. Terry Whalin, Running on Ice: The Overcoming Faith of Vonetta Flowers (Birmingham, AL: New Hope Publishers, 2005).
Christopher D. Fullerton, Every Other Sunday: The Story of the Birmingham Black Barons (Birmingham: R. Boozer Press, 1999); John Klima, Willie's Boys: The 1948 Birmingham Black Barons, the Last Negro League World Series, and the Making of a Baseball Legend (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2009); http://northbysouth.kenyon.edu/2000/baseball/BBB_intro.htm; http://encyclopediaofalabama.org/face/Article.jsp?id=h-1665
A. G. Gaston, Green Power: The Successful Way of A. G. Gaston (Birmingham: Southern University Press, 1968); Carol Jenkins and Elizabeth Gardner Hines, Black Titan, A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire (New York: One World/Ballantine, 2003).
Abbott was the son of Elbert and Mollie Brown Abbott who moved to South Dakota from Alabama in 1890. He graduated from Watertown High School, Watertown, South Dakota, in 1912 and then from the South Dakota State University at Brookings in 1916. Abbott earned 14 varsity athletic awards during his collegiate career.
In 1916 Cleveland Abbott married Jessie Harriet Scott (1897–1982). They had one daughter, Jessie Ellen, who in 1943 became the first coach of the women’s track team at Tennessee State University in Nashville.
Abbott served as a First Lieutenant in the 366th Infantry, 92nd Division in World War I. He saw action at the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in 1918. Abbott was later a commissioned officer in the Army Reserve. (The US Army Reserve Center at Tuskegee is now named the Cleveland Leigh Abbott Center.)
“Obituary,” The Huronite (Huron, South Dakota, June 5, 1955, p. 1); A. Dunkle and V. Smith, The College on the Hills: A Sense of South Dakota State University History (Brookings, SD: SDSU Alumni Association, 2003); Ruth Hill, Black Women Oral History Project (Westport, CT: Meckler, 1990); Charles Johnson, African Americans and ROTC (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2002); Monroe Mason and Arthur Furr, The American Negro Soldier with the Red Hand of France (Boston: Cornhill Co., 1920).
Dr. Regina Marcia Benjamin, President Barack Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General of the United States, is an accomplished physician whose professional and personal roots are planted deeply in rural America. Dr. Benjamin was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1956 and grew up in nearby Daphne, Alabama.
Regina Benjamin’s parents divorced when she was a child and her mother worked as a domestic and waitress to support Regina and her older brother. Although the family owned land, financial necessity forced them to sell it. She recalled that her family often fished in the Gulf of Mexico to catch their evening meal.
Despite her family's poverty Regina Benjamin set her sights on college. She enrolled in Xavier University in New Orleans where she met an African American physician for the first time. This encounter persuaded her to pursue a career in medicine. Earning a Bachelor of Science degree from Xavier in 1978, she then attended Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta between 1980 and 1982 but completed her medical degree at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.
Tuskegee University, one of the largest historically black universities in the United States, is a private university located in Tuskegee, Alabama. It was founded by Lewis Adams, a former slave, and George W. Campbell, a former slave owner.
Albert Murray, an African American novelist, jazz critic, professor, and essayist, was born in Nokomis, Alabama on May 12, 1916. His birth parents were Sudie Graham and John Young but he was adopted by Hugh and Mattie Murray and grew up in Magazine Point, Alabama.
David Satcher, physician, educator, and administrator, was born in Anniston, Alabama, on March 2, 1941 to Wilmer and Anne Satcher. In 1963 Satcher graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta. He earned a M.D. and Ph.D. in cytogenetics from Case Western Reserve University in 1970.
In 1979 Satcher became a professor and later chair of the Department of Community Medicine and Family Practice at Morehouse School of Medicine. In the early 1980s, he also served on the faculty of the UCLA School of Medicine and Public Health and the Martin Luther King/Drew Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he developed and chaired the King/Drew Department of Family Medicine. While in his position, Satcher negotiated the agreement with the UCLA School of Medicine and the Board of Regents that created a medical education program at King/Drew. In this new program, he directed sickle cell research. In 1982, Satcher began his five year presidency at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee.
Oakwood College is a private, four-year coeducational historically black liberal arts university located in Huntsville, Alabama; the small urban campus is five minutes from downtown. Sitting on 1,185 acres, Oakwood University is one of the historical landmarks of Huntsville. It is the only historically black institution sponsored by the Seventh Day Adventists.
Angela Davis, activist, educator, scholar, and politician, was born on January 26, 1944, in the “Dynamite Hill” area of Birmingham, Alabama. The area received that name because so many African American homes in this middle class neighborhood had been bombed over the years by the Ku Klux Klan. Her father, Frank Davis, was a service station owner and her mother, Sallye Davis, was an elementary school teacher. Davis’s mother was also active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), when it was dangerous to be openly associated with the organization because of its civil rights activities. As a teenager Davis moved to New York City with her mother, who was pursuing a Master’s degree at New York University. While there she attended Elizabeth Irwin High School, a school considered leftist because a number of its teachers were blacklisted during the McCarthy era for their earlier alleged Communist activities.
Milton Crenchaw is the only living civilian flight instructor (of the first class) for the Tuskegee Airmen. He was the first Arkansas African American to be called a Tuskegee Airman.
Milton Pitts Crenchaw was born on January 13, 1919 in Little Rock, Arkansas to Ethel Pitts Crenchaw, a beautician, and Reverend Joseph C. Crenchaw. Milton Crenchaw studied auto mechanics at Dunbar Junior College and in 1939 enrolled in the mechanical engineering program at Tuskegee Institute. He was in the school’s pilot training program and did not continue his studies after earning his pilot’s license.
He learned to fly at Gunter Airfield (now Maxwell Air Force Base) near Montgomery, Alabama. In 1940 pioneering African-American aviator Charles A. Anderson persuaded Crenchaw to become a flight instructor for the newly formed Tuskegee Airmen. He served in that capacity from 1941 until 1946, training hundreds of African American cadets and pilots at various airfields around Tuskegee Institute.
Robert A. Rose, D.D.S., Lonely Eagles (California: Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated, Los Angeles Chapter, 1976); Charles Dryden, A-Train: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman (Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1997); http://www.lwfaam.net/ww2/aaf_66th_ftd/66th.htm; http://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=4925; http://www.cmrousefund.org/milton-pitts-crenchaw.html; http://earlyaviators.com/eanderso.htm; http://www.central.aero/about-us/
Alexis Herman, US Secretary of Labor, political activist, civic leader, social worker, and entrepreneur, was born on July 16, 1947 in Mobile, Alabama to politician Alex Herman and educator Gloria Caponis. Herman graduated from Heart of Mary High School in Mobile in 1965 and enrolled in Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin, and then Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama before transferring to St. Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology in 1969. She joined the Gamma Alpha Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta during her college years and supported this sorority throughout her career.
An African American Baptist preacher, educator, author, and tireless advocate for African American advancement and uplift, Charles Octavius Boothe was one of the founders of Dexter Avenue-King Memorial Baptist Church (1877), Selma University (1878), and the Colored Baptist Missionary Convention for the State of Alabama in the early 1870s. The latter was the first statewide African American Baptist denominational organization. He also served as the first minister of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and a two year term as president of Selma University (1901-1902).
BlackPast.org is an independent non-profit corporation 501(c)(3). It has no affiliation with the University of Washington. BlackPast.org is supported in part by a grant from Humanities Washington, a state-wide non-profit organization supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the state of Washington, and contributions from individuals and foundations.