Robert Tanner Freeman was born in Washington, D.C. in 1846. His formerly enslaved parents took the surname “Freeman” as did countless other people after gaining their freedom from bondage. As a child, Robert befriended Henry Bliss Noble, a local white dentist in the District of Columbia. Freeman began working as an apprentice to Dr. Noble and continued until he was a young adult. Dr. Noble encouraged young Robert to apply to dental colleges.
Two medical schools rejected Freeman’s application but with the encouragement of Dr. Nobel who had contacts at Harvard Medical School, Freeman applied there. Initially rejected, he was accepted into Harvard Medical School in 1867 at the age of 21, after a petition by Dean Nathan Cooley Keep to end the school’s historical exclusion of African Americans and other racial minorities.
Edward Franklin Frazier, the most prominent African American sociologist of the 20th Century, was born on September 24, 1894 and died on May 17, 1962. Best known for his critical work on the black middle class, Black Bourgeoisie (1957), Frazier was also a harsh critic of Jim Crow as the great inhibitor of the American Dream for the “American Negro.”
Frazier was born to James H. and Mary Clark Frazier. His father worked as a bank messenger and his mother was a housewife. Both parents stressed the worth of education as a path to freedom and as an instrument to fight for social justice.
Edward William Brooke III was the first African American to be elected by popular vote to the United States Senate. Brooke, an African American, Protestant Republican, won elective office in the overwhelmingly white, Catholic, Democratic state of Massachusetts and emerged as a leader in the US Senate. Edward Brooke III, the son of Helen (Seldon) Brooke and Edward W. Brooke, was born October 26, 1919 in Washington, D.C. Brook's father, Edward, earned a law degree at the Howard University School of Law and later served as an attorney with the US Veterans Administration.
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.
In the late 1920s, Ophelia Settle Egypt conducted some of the first and finest interviews with former slaves, setting the stage for the Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) massive project ten years later. Born Ophelia Settle in 1903, she was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and a researcher for the black sociologist Charles Johnson at Fisk University in Nashville.
Over the course of her career Settle helped expose the infamous Tuskegee study of syphilis among black sharecroppers, and played a leading role in Charles Johnson’s "Shadow of the Plantation" study of the sharecropper system. As the Depression wore on, she left Fisk to assist with relief efforts in St. Louis. She accepted a scholarship from the National Association for the Prevention of Blindness to study medicine and sociology at Washington University, where, as a black woman, she was required to receive all her lessons from a tutor. She also became head of social services at a hospital in New Orleans, and five years later conducted research for James Weldon Johnson, about whom she wrote a children's book. Egypt was a social worker in southeast Washington, D.C., and for eleven years was the director of the community’s first Planned Parenthood clinic, which was named for her in 1981.
Ophelia Settle Egypt died in Washington, D.C. in 1984.She was 81.
Pauli Murray, Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage (New York: Harper and Row, 1987); Elaine Sue Caldbeck, “A Religious Life of Pauli Murray: Hope and Struggle,” Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern University, 2000; http://spartacus-educational.com/USAmurrayA.htm.
Leading 20th Century black historian Rayford Whittingham Logan was born on January 7, 1897 in Washington, D.C. to working class parents, Arthur C. and Martha Whittingham Logan. Rayford Logan spent his formative years in Washington, D.C. While in high school, he was taught by Carter G. Woodson. A bright student, Logan was honored with a scholarship to Williams College where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1917. Immediately, he joined the U.S. Army in World War I and like many black veterans of that era, was disillusioned as he witnessed the racism perpetrated against black troops by white officers.
Marshall was born on July 2, 1908 in Baltimore, Maryland, the great-grandson of a slave. His father, William Marshall, a railroad porter, instilled in him an appreciation of the Constitution at an early age. When young Marshall got in trouble at school he was required to memorize sections of the US Constitution. His mother, Norma Arica Williams, an elementary school teacher for 25 years, placed great emphasis on his overall scholarship.
Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States and the first African American to occupy the White House. Obama was born August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii. His father, Barack Obama Sr., was a Kenyan graduate student studying in the United States and his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, a white American from Wichita, Kansas. The two were married on February 2, 1961 in Maui, Hawaii. In 1971, when he was ten, Obama’s mother, who had remarried and was living in Indonesia, sent him to Honolulu, Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents Madelyn and Stanley Dunham for several years, where he attended Punahou, a prestigious preparatory school. Obama was admitted on a scholarship with the assistance of his grandparents.
Robert C. Weaver was a noted economist and administrator. From 1966 through 1968, he was the first African American cabinet official, serving as the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Weaver was born and raised in Washington D.C. From 1929 through 1934, he attended Harvard University, earning economic degrees at the Bachelor of Science, Masters’, and Ph.D. levels. As an administrator, Weaver worked as an adviser to the Secretary of the Interior (1933-37), special assistant for the Housing Authority (1937-40), and an administrative assistant with the National Defense Advisory Commission (1940). During the Second World War, he worked in several capacities concerned with mobilizing black labor into industrial employment contracted by the federal government.
Anna Julia Haywood Cooper was a writer, teacher, and activist who championed education for African Americans and women. Born into bondage in 1858 in Raleigh, North Carolina, she was the daughter of an enslaved woman, Hannah Stanley, and her owner, George Washington Haywood.
In 1867, two years after the end of the Civil War, Anna began her formal education at Saint Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute, a coeducational facility built for former slaves. There she received the equivalent of a high school education.
Mordecai Wyatt Johnson was born in Paris, Tennessee in 1890, the son of a former slave. He graduated from what is now Morehouse College in Atlanta in 1911 where he became an accomplished orator and debater. Johnson was also a student athlete who played football and tennis. Johnson was hired by Morehouse soon after his graduation to teach history, English and economics. Later Johnson served as dean of the college for two years.
Mordecai Johnson later enrolled in the Rochester Divinity School in upstate New York while serving as pastor at a nearby church. In 1922, when he graduated from Harvard Divinity School, Johnson was chosen to give the commencement address which he titled: "The Faith of the American Negro.” Four years later Mordecai Johnson was appointed the thirteenth and first permanent African American president of Howard University, a position he held for the next thirty-four years.
Under Johnson, Howard became one of the nation’s leading universities and, certainly, the leading African American university. He was responsible for raising substantial sums from both Congress and private donors. The number of faculty tripled, the salaries doubled, academic and admission requirements were toughened, and Johnson insisted on devoting resources to accreditation of Howard’s graduate and professional schools.
Dubbed “The Moses of Her People,” escaped slave Harriet Tubman assisted hundreds of slaves on the Underground Railroad, leading them from Maryland to safety in Pennsylvania. Born enslaved and raised in Dorchester County, Maryland to Benjamin and Harriett Greene Ross, Harriett was both a field hand and a domestic servant. As a young girl, she suffered a lifelong injury after her master threw a piece of iron at her, which struck her in the head. Throughout her life, Harriett suffered bouts of narcoleptic seizures. In 1844, she married a free black man, John Tubman. She escaped in 1849 in order to avoid being sold into the Deep South. Her husband refused to go with her. Several months later, when she returned to get him, she learned he had taken another wife. He died shortly after the end of the Civil War. Harriett later married Nelson Davis.
Historian and anthropologist, William Leo Hansberry began his college education at Atlanta University, but (at the urging of W.E.B. DuBois) he transferred to Harvard in 1917. Based on his reading of classical texts and his study of archeological evidence, Hansberry became convinced as an undergraduate that sophisticated civilizations had existed in Africa–especially in Ethiopia–for centuries prior to the rise of the Greeks and Romans in Europe. He pursued that premise for the rest of his life.
A circular letter announcing his desire to develop courses in African civilization landed him a temporary job at Howard University in Washington D.C., following his graduation from Harvard in 1921. There he quickly built his new program into one of the most popular undergraduate majors on the campus, and he hosted international conferences to stimulate the study of ancient and medieval African societies. By the mid-1920s, however, he ran afoul not only of the wider white academic community, which was extremely skeptical of Hansberry’s ambitious claims, but also of senior colleagues at Howard, who believed he was giving the university a bad name by teaching assertions for which there was little or no compelling evidence. The Howard board settled the dispute by retaining the popular African program, while relegating Hansberry himself to a secondary position without tenure.
Matthew Henson was an American explorer who accompanied Robert Peary, most famously on an expedition intended to reach the Geographic North Pole in 1909. Subsequent research and exploration has revealed that Peary and Henson did not reach the North Pole but their failed attempt is still recognized as an important contribution to scientific knowledge.
Born near Thomasville, Georgia on March 21, 1856, Henry O. Flipper rose to prominence as the first African American graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1877. Despite being born into slavery to Festus, a shoemaker, and Isabella Flipper, Henry was reared in a family that emphasized excellence, and he and his younger brothers all became respected members of their communities as a military officer, AME bishop (Joseph), physician (E.H.), college professor (Carl), and farmer (Festus, Jr.).
Angelina Weld Grimke was born into a legacy of advocacy for racial justice. As the daughter of Archibald Grimke, the second black to graduate from Harvard law and vice-president of the NAACP, Grimké’s heritage of racial equality can be further traced to her grand aunts, Angelina and Sarah Grimke, prominent abolitionists and advocates of women’s rights.
Carolivia Herron, Selected Works of Angelina Weld Grimke (London: Oxford University Press, 1991); http://www.dclibrary.org/blkren/bios/grimkeaw.html
Wesley Brown earned distinction in 1949 as the first African American to graduate from the United States Naval Academy. Wesley Brown grew up in Washington, D.C. and attended Dunbar High School. A “voracious reader,” Brown joined the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History to study his history and heritage. At Dunbar, Brown was a member of the Cadet Corps and worked evenings as a youth mailman at the Navy Department. Brown was nominated by Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., a New York Congressman, for appointment into the Naval Academy and was accepted.
Wesley Brown began classes in 1945 and voluntarily decided to room alone. “I wasn’t sure I wanted them to share my burden,” he said. He faced racism in the first year, picking up 140 out of a possible 150 demerits, but as his education continued found that many were “supportive and protective” of him.
Appiah, Kwame and Henry Louis Gates, eds., Africana: The Encyclopedia
of the African & African American Experience, Vols. 1-5 (New York:
Basic Civitas Books 2004); http://www.exploredc.org/index.php?id=381
In his fifty year military career, Davis served as an officer with the 10th Cavalry, Adjutant, Professor of Military Science at Wilberforce University in Ohio and Tuskegee Institute (University), Military Attaché to Monrovia, Liberia, Supply Officer, Commanding Officer, Brigade Commander, Advisor on Negro Problems, and Assistant to the Inspector General in Washington, D.C. Benjamin Davis gained a reputation as a man of determination and diplomacy. His quiet resolve and competence overcame the prejudice and segregation of military life before its integration during the Korean War. He retired on July 14, 1948, died on November 26, 1970, and was interred in Arlington National Cemetery. He also was the father of Lieutenant General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., the second African American to gain the rank of general.
Marvin E. Fletcher, America’s First Black General: Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., 1880-1970 (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas, 1989.); www.army.mil/cmh/topics/afam/davis.htm
Martha Euphemia Lofton Haynes was the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics. Her dissertation, Determination of Sets of Independent Conditions Characterizing Certain Special Cases of Symmetric Correspondence was advised by Aubrey Landry, a professor at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
Haynes was born to parents Dr. William Lofton and Mrs. Lavina Day Lofton in Washington, D.C. on September 11, 1890. William Lofton was a prominent dentist and a financial supporter of black institutions and charities. Her mother was active in the Catholic Church. Later Haynes would also become active in the Catholic Church, earning a Papal medal, “Pro Ecclesia and Pontifex,” in 1959, for her service to the church and to her community.
Haynes started her educational journey at Miner Normal School, Washington D.C. where she graduated with distinction in 1909. She then attended Smith College in Massachusetts and earned her Bachelor’s degree in mathematics with a minor in psychology in 1914. Later, she earned her Master’s degree in education from the University of Chicago in 1930. Finally, at the age of 53, she earned her Ph.D. in mathematics from Catholic University of America in 1943.
A writer, an economist and an advocate for affirmative action, Andrew Felton Brimmer is best known as the first African American to hold a governorship on the United States Federal Reserve Bank.
Born in Newellton, Louisiana, Brimmer moved to Bremerton, Washington in 1944 and enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served in the Army two years, rising to the rank of staff sergeant. Upon his return, he enrolled at the University of Washington where he received his B.A. in Economics in 1950 and M.A. shortly thereafter in 1951. Brimmer then studied at the University of Bombay for a year and completed a Ph.D. in Economics at Harvard University in 1957.
First and foremost an economist, Brimmer promoted a monetary policy that sought to alleviate unemployment and reduce the national deficit. He also argued that racial discrimination hurt the U.S economy by marginalizing potentially productive workers.
Ruth Edmonds Hill, ed., The Black Women Oral History Project (Westport, Connecticut: Meckler, 1991); Rayford W. Logan, Howard University: The First Hundred Years, 1867-1967 (New York: New York University Press, 1967); http://www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/physicians/biography_109.html
Eric Pace, "James M. Nabrit Jr. Dies at 97; Led Howard University" New York Times (Published Tuesday December 30, 1997); Darlene Clark Hine, Black Victory: The Rise and Fall of the White Primary in Texas (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003).
During his senior year of college, Cheatham helped to found a home for African American orphans. In 1883, Cheatham was hired as the Principal of the State Normal School for African Americans, at Plymouth, North Carolina. He held the position for a year when his career as an educator gave way to his desire to enter state politics.
Cheatham ran a successful campaign for the office of Registrar of Deeds at Vance County, North Carolina in 1884, and he served the county for four years. He also studied law during his first term in office, with an eye toward national politics. In 1888 Henry Cheatham ran for Congress as a Republican in North Carolina’s Second Congressional District. He defeated his white Democratic opponent, Furnifold M. Simmons.
Clarence Thomas, the second African American to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, was born in Pin Point, Georgia, a small community south of Savannah. His mother, Leola Williams, a single parent, raised Thomas until he was seven. He and his brother, Myers, were sent to Savannah where they were raised by their maternal grandfather, Myers Anderson. To help his grandsons to survive in the Jim Crow South, Anderson, a Democrat, local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) member, and recent convert to Catholicism, instilled in them a discipline and pride that would counterpoint the harshness of southern racism. Thomas remembers that after purchasing a new truck, his grandfather removed the heater because he believed its use would make the boys lazy.
Thomas was educated in St. Benedict the Moor, an all-black Catholic school in Savannah and later became the only African American student at St. John Vianney Minor Seminary just outside Savannah. In 1967 he entered Immaculate Conception Seminary in northwestern Missouri to prepare for the priesthood. He withdrew after viewing one fellow student’s pleasure at the news that Dr. Martin Luther King had been assassinated.
Daniel A. P. Murray was born on March 3, 1852 in Baltimore, Maryland. At the age of nine he left Baltimore to live in Washington, D.C., where his brother managed the U.S. Senate restaurant. In 1871 Murray acquired a job as a personal assistant to the librarian of Congress, Ainsworth R. Spofford. Under Spofford's tutelage Murray gathered invaluable research skills and learned several languages. In 1879 he married Anna Evans, an Oberlin College graduate whose uncle and cousin had taken part in John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry. Two years later, in 1881, he advanced to assistant librarian of the Library of Congress, a position he would hold until his retirement in 1923.
After graduating from law school Jackson-Lee moved to Houston, Texas after her husband, Dr. Elwyn C. Lee accepted a job offer from the University of Houston. Dr. Lee is currently Vice Chancellor and Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of Houston. Jackson-Lee was in private practice from 1975 to 1987 when she was elected a Houston municipal judge. Jackson-Lee then ran for a seat on the Houston City Council in 1990. In 1994 Shelia Jackson-Lee was elected as a Democrat to represent the 18th Congressional District of Texas. She currently holds that seat.
Robert Carter enrolled at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania at the age of 16 and completed his degree four years later. In 1937 he entered Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C. After completing his law degree at Howard Carter earned his LLM (Master of Laws) degree at Columbia University after writing a thesis that would later define the legal strategy of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) on the right to freedom of association under the first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Carter was drafted into the Army in 1941 and first encountered racism. After serving in the Army Air Corps, he was discharged from the service in 1944. Carter was then offered a job with the NAACP’s legal staff headed by chief counsel Thurgood Marshall. Carter accepted and became Marshall’s chief legal assistant in the fight against Jim Crow laws across the South. Carter served for example as the lead attorney of the Sweatt v. Painter Texas desegregation case in 1950.
John Wesley Cromwell was a historian, editor, educator and lawyer who was born into slavery on September 5th, 1846 in Portsmouth, Virginia. He was the youngest child of Willis Hodges Cromwell and Elizabeth Carney Cromwell, who had twelve children. In 1851 Willis Cromwell obtained his family’s freedom and they moved to West Philadelphia. John attended Bird’s Grammar School at the age of ten and the Institute for Colored Youth in 1856. He graduated in 1864 and taught briefly in Colombia, Pennsylvania.
Cromwell returned to Virginia in 1865 at the age of eighteen and opened a private school for freedmen in Portsmouth, which was eventually taken over by the American Missionary Association. He returned to Philadelphia and worked with the Baltimore Association for the Moral and Intellectual Improvement of Colored People. In December of 1865, the principal of the Association recommended Cromwell to teach in the American Missionary Association’s freedman’s schools being formed across the South. Cromwell taught briefly in Maryland and Virginia through 1867.
John Wesley Cromwell soon got involved with local politics in Virginia. In 1867 he was named a delegate to the first Republican convention in Richmond. He was also named clerk in the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1868.
Ida Alexander Gibbs Hunt, teacher, Pan-Africanist and civil rights leader, was born on November 16, 1862 in Victoria, British Columbia. Her parents were Mifflin Wistar Gibbs and Maria Alexander. Ida Gibbs studied in the Oberlin Conservatory of Music from 1872 to 1876. She then went to local public schools from 1876 to 1879. For her senior year of high school, Gibbs attended the Oberlin College’s Preparatory Department and stayed on as a college student. She completed her college education at Oberlin College in 1884, receiving both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Eng
Albert Irving Cassell, a prominent African American architect, planner, engineer, educator, and entrepreneur, was born on June 25, 1895 in Towson, Maryland. His parents were Albert and Charlotte Cassell. Albert’s father was a coal truck driver and trumpet player and his mother washed laundry to help with the family finances. Albert himself had three wives and children by each of them for a total of six children and two step-children. Cassell’s education began in a Baltimore public elementary and high school. He later moved to Ithaca, New York and enrolled in a city high school there. He was admitted into Cornell University for college, where he worked on campus to pay for his tuition.
Before Cassell could complete his college education, he served in the United States Army during World War I from 1917-1918. Commissioned a second lieutenant in the heavy field artillery, he served as a training officer in France. After his brief stint in the military, he returned to Cornell University and completed his bachelor architectural degree in 1919. His first project included the design of five buildings at the Tuskegee Institute with fellow architect William A. Hazel. In 1920 he designed silk mills and other industrial plants in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Later that year Cassell joined the Architecture Department of Howard University as an assistant professor.
Robert Herberton Terrell, the first African American judge in Washington, D.C., was born in Charlottesville, Virginia on November 27, 1857 to Harris and Louisa Ann Terrell. The Terrells, an upper-middle class American family, sent their son to public schools in the District of Columbia and then to Groton Academy in Groton, Massachusetts. In 1884, Robert Terrell graduated cum laude from Harvard University. Five years later he graduated from the Howard University Law School with an LL.B. In 1893 he attained his LL.M from Howard University Law School. Because of the difficulty in getting a job as a black attorney in Washington, D.C., Terrell taught in the District’s public schools between 1884 and 18. He then worked as chief clerk in the office of the auditor of the U.S. Treasury.
Robert Terrell met Mary Church when she accepted a teaching post at the Preparatory School for Colored Youth in Washington, D.C., where he was principal. They married in October 1891 and had two daughters. Mary Church Terrell, the daughter of Robert R. Church, a prominent Republican politician and businessman in Memphis, would soon be noted in her own right as a civil rights leader and instrumental in the organization of the Colored Women’s League of Washington. She was also an early president of the National Association for Colored Women.
Marion Barry Jr., a civil rights activist and later three term mayor of Washington D.C., was born on March 6, 1936, in Itta Bena, Mississippi. His parents, Marion Barry and Mattie Barry, were sharecroppers; the family lived in relative poverty. When Marion was eight years old, his mother took the family to live in Memphis, Tennessee.
Barry graduated from high school in Memphis and then in 1958 earned his bachelor’s degree at Le Moyne College, a small black college in the city. He received a master’s degree in organic chemistry from Le Moyne College in Nashville in 1960. Barry then completed three years of a doctoral program in chemistry at the University of Tennessee.
Jonetta Rose Barras, The Last of the Black Emperor: The Hollow Comeback of Marion Barry in the New Age of Black Leaders (Baltimore: Bancroft Press, 1998); Councilmember Ward 8, http://www.dccouncil.washington.dc.us/BARRY/about/default.htm; The Washington Post, “Marion Barry: The Making of a Mayor,” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/longterm/library/dc/barry/barry.htm. "Marion Berry 4-Time Mayor of D.C., dies at 78," The Washington Post, Nov 23, 2014.
Ulysses Grant Lee, Jr. was a historian, author, professor, editor and army officer. Born on December 4th, 1913 in Washington D.C. to Ulysses Grant, a business owner, and Maggie Lee Grant, he was the oldest of seven children. Lee graduated from Dunbar High School in 1931. He then attended Howard University where he earned his B.A. and graduated summa cum laude in 1935. He then received his M.A. from Howard in 1936 and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago where he again graduated with honors.
Lee began his career as a graduate assistant at Howard. He became an instructor and eventually assistant professor at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania where he taught from 1936 to 1948. In 1940 he was a visiting professor at Virginia Union University. Lee eventually joined the English faculty at Lincoln University in Missouri where he stayed until 1956. That same year he began teaching at Morgan State College in Baltimore and the University of Pennsylvania. Known as an excellent, well respected teacher, Lee was voted the Distinguished Teacher Award in 1963 by his students at Morgan State.
In 1941 Ulysses Lee edited The Negro Caravan with Sterling A. Brown and Arthur P. Davis. This widely used anthology was one of the first to bring together all of the major writing by African American authors of the era.
From 1936 to 1939 Lee worked as a research assistant, editor, and consultant for the Federal Writers Project which sponsored publications such as Washington: City and Capital (1937) and The Negro in Virginia (1940).
In 1910 James Edward Shepard founded North Carolina College for Negroes in Durham, North Carolina. Shepard was born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina along with eleven other siblings. His father was Reverend Augustus Shepard and his mother was Harriet E. Shepard. Shepard received his education through the North Carolina public school system. He worked as a pharmacist for a short time after graduating from Shaw University in 1894 after receiving his Ph.G. (Graduate Pharmacist) degree. James Shepard married Annie Robison in 1895 and the couple had two children.
In 1898 Shepard along with John Merrick established North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company in Durham. Eventually Shepard founded Farmers and Mechanics Bank in Durham as well.
Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W. W. Norton, 1982); "The History of North Carolina Central University,” http://www.nccu.edu/discover/history.cfm.
Visual artist Lois Mailou Jones was born in 1905 in Boston, Massachusetts to Thomas Vreeland and Carolyn Dorinda Jones. Her father was a superintendent of a building and later became a lawyer, her mother was a cosmetologist. Early in life Jones displayed a passion for drawing, and her parents encouraged this interest by enrolling her in the High School of Practical Arts in Boston where she majored in art. In 1927, Jones graduated with honors from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and continued her education at the Boston Normal School of Arts and the Designers Art School in Boston.
Charles H. Rowell, “An Interview with Lois Mailou Jones.” Callaloo. 12:2 (Spring, 1989): 357 -378); Fern Gillespie, “The Legacy of Lois Mailou Jones,” Howard Magazine (Winter 1999): 8-13; Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1998), http://www.phillipscollection.org/research/american_art/bios/jones-bio.htm.
Elaine Jones, the first woman to administer the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Education Fund (NAACP-LDF), was born in Norfolk, Virginia on March 2, 1944, the daughter of a railroad porter and a school teacher. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1965 and a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1970, becoming the first African American to graduate from that school.
After graduation Jones turned down a job offer with a Wall Street (New York) law firm to join the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, earning thirty percent less than she had been offered by the other firm. The LDF was founded in 1940 by Jones’s mentor and former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to provide legal assistance to the nation’s Civil Rights Movement. It became independent of the NAACP in 1957.
Alton Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby-Gutting, From the Grassroots: Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery: E-BookTime LLC, 2006).
The National Negro Business League (NNBL) was founded by Booker T. Washington in Boston, Massachusetts in 1900. The league, which predated the United States Chamber of Commerce by 12 years, strives to enhance the commercial and economic prosperity of the African American community. The NNBL was formally incorporated in 1901 in New York, and established hundreds of chapters across the United States. In 1966, the National Negro Business League was reincorporated in Washington, D.C. and renamed the National Business League.
Cary D. Wintz, ed. African American Political Thought, 1890-1930: Washington, DuBois, Garvey, and Randolph (New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1996); http://nblgw.org/; http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/coolhtml/coolennr.html.
Rowan was born August 11, 1925, in the mining town of Ravenscroft, Tennessee. When he was a baby his family moved to McMinnville, Tennessee, because his parents thought its lumberyards offered more opportunity. His father, Thomas, stacked lumber for construction, and his mother, Johnnie, cleaned houses, cooked, and did laundry for wealthier families. They had five children. The Rowan family home had no electricity, running water, telephone, nor even a clock. One of young Carl's teachers encouraged him to read and write as much as possible, even going to the library for him because, as a black person, Rowan wasn't allowed to check out books for himself. He graduated at the top of his high school class.
Carl Rowan, Breaking Barriers: a Memoir (Boston: Little, Brown 1991); Cynthia Kirk, “Carl Rowan: The Life Story of an Influential Newsman,” People in America, Voice of America (May 14, 2005); J.Y. Smith, “Columnist Carl Rowan Dies at 75,” The Washington Post, Sept. 24, 2000; p. A1.
On June 25, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, creating a Committee on Fair Employment Practices (FEPC) to investigate complaints of discrimination and take action against valid complaints in any defense industry receiving government contracts. President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 only after A. Phillip Randolph, working with other civil rights activists, organized the 1941 March on Washington Movement, which threatened to bring 100,000 African Americans to the nation’s capitol to protest racial discrimination. President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 one week before the proposed March, and in return, Randolph called off the demonstration. However, Randolph continued to fight against discrimination and formed the March on Washington Movement (MOWM) to hold the FEPC accountable.
Merl Elwyn Reed, Seedtime for the Modern Civil Rights Movement: the
President’s Committee on Fair Employment Practice, 1941-1946, (Baton
Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991); Louis Ruchames, Race,
Jobs & Politics: The Story of FEPC, (New York: Columbia University
Press, 1953); Herbert Garfinkel, When Negroes March: The March on
Washington Movement in the Organizational Politics for FEPC (New York:
Charles R. Drew, a renowned physician and medical researcher and the first black surgeon examiner of the American Board of Surgery, revolutionized medicine by creating a system that allowed the immediate and safe transfusion of blood plasma.
Born on June 3, 1904 in Washington, D.C. to Richard T. Drew and Nora Burrell, Drew grew up in the city. He attended Dunbar High School, where his excellence in academics and athletics earned him an athletic scholarship to Amherst College in Massachusetts.
After graduating from Amherst in 1926, he worked as Director of Athletics at Morgan College. In 1929, he attended medical school at McGill University in Canada, where he studied with Dr. Beattie and developed his interest in blood storage just before he graduated in 1933. In 1935, Drew returned to Washington D.C. to become a professor at Howard University’s medical school.
Spencie Love, One Blood: The Death and Resurrection of Charles R. Drew (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996); Chrisanne Becker, 100 African Americans who Shaped American History: Charles R. Drew (San Francisco: Blue Wood Books, 1995).
Frederick Drew Gregory was a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut, administrator, and the first black man to command a space shuttle mission.
Born January 7, 1941 to Francis A. and Nora Drew Gregory, he grew up in Washington, D.C. where he was an active member of the Boy Scouts and graduated from Anacostia High School. Gregory received a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Air Force Academy and later his master’s degree in information systems from George Washington University.
Soon after receiving his master’s degree, Gregory joined NASA and in 1977 was selected for his first mission. As a pilot aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1985, he first proved himself a capable astronaut. He was next given leadership of the Discovery mission in 1989 and made history as the first black man to command a space shuttle. The Discovery crew orbited the earth 79 times during their 120 hour flight.
Gregory's final mission was on the shuttle Atlantis. The crew preformed medical tests and experiments. They also successfully launched the defense support program satellite.
NASA Biographies, http://www.nasa.gov/about/highlights/gregory_bio.html and http:////www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/gregory-fd.html; Betty Kaplan Gubert, Miriam Sawyer and Caroline M. Fannin, Distinguished African Americans in Aviation and Space Science, (Phoenix: Oryx Press, 2001).
Eric H. Holder, Jr., U.S. Attorney General since 2009, was born on January 21, 1951 in the Bronx, New York to parents of Barbadian descent, Eric, a real estate agent and Miriam Holder, a telephone operator. Holder was raised in East Elmhurst, Queens, a community which included a number of famous African Americans such as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Harry Belafonte, and Sidney Poitier. Civil rights activist Malcolm X lived two blocks from young Holder and on one occasion in 1964, then recently crowned heavy weight champion Muhammad Ali entertained him and other community children on the steps of the Malcolm’s house.
Holder graduated from Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan and in 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War protests and Black Power movement, he entered Columbia University where he participated in sit-ins by African American students. Holder also played collegiate basketball and became co-captain of his team. In 1973, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in U.S. history from Columbia and then entered Columbia University Law School, earning a J.D. in 1976. While in law school Holder served as a law clerk for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Educational Fund (NAACP-LDF).
Glenn Thrush, “The Survivor: How Eric Holder Outlasted his Many Critics”
(July/August 2014). Found in
and http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/11/us/politics/11holder.html?_r=1; Michael D. Schear, "Holder Resigns, Setting Up Fight over Successor," New York Times, September 26, 2014, p. 1.
The Freedmen’s Savings and Trust Company, commonly referred to as The Freedmen’s Bank, was incorporated on March 3, 1865. It was created by the United States Congress along with the Freedmen’s Bureau to aid the freedmen in their transition from slavery to freedom.
By late 1861, many black Americans along the border-states experienced a de facto freedom in the presence of occupying Union troops. Some found employment in Union garrisons where they were monetarily compensated for their work. At this time, northern abolitionists called for the creation of a freedmen’s bank to assist the ex-slaves in developing habits of financial responsibility.
During the Civil War, small banks were established across the South to receive deposits from black soldiers and runaway slaves working at Union garrisons. Many of the records of these deposits were lost, however, and many of the freedmen were prevented from recovering their deposits. Also, when black troops were killed in combat and did not list next-of-kin, their deposits often went unclaimed. Even when relatives were listed, locating them proved difficult since the Civil War disrupted black residential patterns.
Walter L. Fleming, The Freedmen’s Saving Bank: A Chapter in the Economic History of the Negro Race (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1927); Claude F. Oubre, Forty Acres and a Mule: The Freedmen’s Bureau and Black Land Ownership (Baton Rouge: The Louisiana State University Press, 1978), pp. 43, 68, 159-60; http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1997/summer/freedmans-savings-and-trust.html.
Dr. Ionia Rollin Whipper, physician and social reformer, was born September 8, 1872 in Beaufort, South Carolina. She was one of three surviving children born to author and diarist Frances Anne Rollin and Judge William James Whipper.
By 1878, as the Reconstruction period was ending in South Carolina, the Ku Klux Klan, and white supremacist “Rifle Clubs” were gathering forces. Amid an escalating climate of violence, Frances Rollin Whipper took Winifred, Ionia, and Leigh to Washington, D.C. The family established a home on 6th Street NW, and Whipper saw the children through early education and graduation from Howard University. Ionia, after teaching for ten years in the Washington, D.C. public school system, entered Howard Medical School, one of the few schools in the country to accept women.
In 1903, Ionia graduated from Howard University Medical School with a major in Obstetrics, one of four women in her class. That year, she became a resident physician at Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, and on her return to Washington, D.C, set up private practice at 511 Florida Avenue NW, where she accepted only women patients.
Ionia Rollin Whipper; Perpetual Diary 1920-‘29; Ionia Rollin Whipper, Diary: What It Means To Be God Guided ,1939, Property of Carole Ione Lewis; R.J. Abram, ed., Send Us a Lady Physician: Women Doctors in America, 1835-1920 (New York: Norton, 1985); Carole Ione, Pride of Family; Four Generations of American Women of Color (New York: Harlem Moon Classics, 2004); Lelia Frances Whipper, The Pretty Way Home (New York: iUniverse, 2003).
James L. Walton is Tacoma, Washington's first black city manager. Born in Dallas, the youngest of five children, he grew up in the small Texas town of Mineola. After high school graduation in 1959, he followed his brother, Willie Brown, who would become a prominent California politician, in moving to California. He lived in San Diego, where he attended community college, then served two tours of duty in the Army during the Vietnam War, concluding his military service at Fort Lewis, Washington. The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., redirected his resolve. In 1968 he enrolled at Tacoma Community College, where he became president of the Obi Society, the black student union, whose members fought an entrenched status quo for an education equal to that offered white students.
Jason Hagey, “Walton’s Legacy of Quiet Activism,” The News Tribune (Tacoma), June 3, 2005; Ron Mills, “TCC alumnus speaks out about racism, The Challenge, Tacoma Community College, June 6, 2002, http://www.tacoma-challenge.com/news1.htm.
The Safe Streets Campaign: Tacoma and Pierce County Respond to Youth Violence, interviews by Janice M. Foster, University of Washington Tacoma Community History Project, UWT Library, 1994 #1.
Vernon Eulion Jordan, civil rights leader, lawyer, and presidential advisor, was born in Atlanta, Georgia on August 15, 1935. Growing up in the segregated American South, Jordan attended David T. Howard High School, where he graduated with honors in 1953.
Upon graduation Jordan entered DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, where he was the only African American in his class. A gifted athlete, Jordan excelled at basketball until his graduation in 1957.
Jordan went on to law school at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he obtained his J. D. degree in 1960. Jordan quickly began civil rights work, joining the firm of John Hollowell in Atlanta. In 1961, the firm won a lawsuit on behalf of Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter who became the first black students admitted to the University of Georgia.
In 1961, Jordan was appointed Field Secretary for the Georgia chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Here Jordan organized boycotts of local businesses that refused to hire African Americans, engaged in fundraising campaigns, and led massive voter registration drives throughout the South.
Vernon E. Jordan, Vernon Can Read: A Memoir (New York: Public Affairs, 2001); NAACP, NAACP Administration 1956-65. General office file. Register and Vote –Taconic Foundation Voter Education Project, 1961-1964 (Bethesda: University Publications of America, 1995); Pat Rediger, Great African Americans in Civil Rights (New York: Crabtree Publication, Co., 1996); http://www.akingump.com/vjordan/.
Brenda Ray Moryck was a Washington, D.C.-based black writer and social activist often associated with the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. While Moryck and her female peers did not receive as much mainstream public attention as did many black male artists, she published short stories, essays, and book reviews in important journals such as the Urban League’s Opportunity and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) Crisis.
Brenda Moryck was born in 1894 in Newark, New Jersey. The great-granddaughter of Reverend Charles Ray, editor of the important antebellum black newspaper, the Colored American, Moryck noted that “writing is a tradition in our family.” In 1916, she graduated from Wellesley College and returned to New Jersey to do volunteer work with the Newark Bureau of Charities. Married to Lucius Lee Jordan in 1917, Moryck was widowed within a year and later remarried Robert B. Francke in 1930. During this interim, she taught English at Armstrong Technical School, one of two segregated high schools for African American youth in Washington, D.C.
“A Point of View (An Opportunity Dinner Reaction),” Opportunity 3 (August 1925); “Our Prize Winners and What They Say of Themselves,” Opportunity 4 (June 1926), 188-189; Brenda Ray Moryck, “Days,” The Crisis 35 (June 1928): 187-188; and Lorraine Elena Roses and Ruth Elizabeth Randolph, “Moryck (Francke), Brenda Ray,” in Harlem Renaissance and Beyond: Literary Biographies of 100 Black Women Writers, 1900-1945 (Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1990), 243-246.
Abraham Doras Shadd, the first Afro-Canadian to hold public office, was born in Wilmington, Delaware on March 2, 1801. He was the grandson of a white German soldier from Hesse Kassel, Germany and a free black woman. Shadd was free born and earned a respectable living as a shoemaker, supporting his wife and thirteen children. His passion, however, was obtaining civil rights for African Americans and later Afro-Canadians and he devoted his life to the abolitionist movement which sought the immediate end of slavery.
Colin A. Thompson, Blacks in Deep Snow (Don Mills, Ontario: J.M. Dent
& Sons, 1979); Joseph Mensah, Black Canadians (Halifax: Fernwood
Leroy Wesley Smith was born in St. Louis Missouri on December 6, 1951, and became a late 20th Century social activist for justice. Son of a fireman and a licensed practical nurse, Smith spent his childhood growing up in a St. Louis housing project. He participated in an after school program for disadvantaged male youth which gave him the opportunity to travel to Cairo, Illinois where he heard other activists and community organizers for the first time. Impressed by their passion and their organizing skills, Smith was influenced to follow a similar path.
After graduating high school in 1970, Smith entered St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota where he became the leader of The Organization of Afro-American Students. Through this organization, Smith fought for a Black Studies program that would hire more black professors.
Sharon Melson Fletcher, “Damu Smith Biography” African American Biographies. (Net Industries, 2009) http://biography.jrank.org/pages/2880/Smith-Damu.html Retrieved 2009-03-06; Sara Powell, “In Memoriam: Damu Smith 1951-2006” Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs. (Jul 2006). http://www.wrmea.com/archives/July_2006/0607080.html Retrieved 2009-03-04.
Lloyd Ferguson, the first African American to receive a Ph.D in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, was born February 9, 1918 in Oakland, California. Growing up in Oakland, Ferguson was always passionate about school, particularly science. In the eighth grade, he brought a chemistry set which allowed him to do experiments and create substances such as gunpowder. Raised by his parents and grandparents, Ferguson was forced to get a job while in high school because his father lost his job during the Great Depression. At first Ferguson became a paper boy and then after high school he worked as a laborer for the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) to save money for college.
Ferguson attended the University of California, Berkeley earning a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry in 1940 and a Ph.D in chemistry in 1943. One of his main contributions at Berkeley was developing a compound that could lose and gain oxygen rapidly. This compound was a type hemoglobin and was later used as a source of oxygen for submarines. He later went on to study the sense of taste through chemistry.
Gabrielle S. Morris, Head of the Class: An Oral history of
African-American Achievement in Higher Education and Beyond (New York,
Twayne Publishers, 1995);
Hazel Johnson was the first African American woman to become a general in the U.S. Army. She was appointed the Chief of the Army Nurse Corps in 1979. Johnson held a doctorate in education administration from Catholic University (1978) and had honorary degrees from Morgan State University, Villanova University, and the University of Maryland.
Johnson first became interested in nursing while growing up on a farm in Westchester, Pennsylvania. Her career began when we she received her nursing degree from the Harlem Hospital in New York City, New York in 1950. She then attended Villanova University where she received her bachelor’s and soon afterwards joined the Army Nurse Corps in 1955.
Johnson served in Japan at a U.S. Army Evacuation Hospital. She served at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 1960 where she was a staff and operating room nurse. Between 1963 and 1967, she was an operating room instructor and supervisor while on a tour of three different hospitals. Johnson reached the rank of major in 1967.
Henry E. Dabbs, Black Brass: Black Generals and Admirals in the Armed Forces of the United States (Charlottesville, Virginia: Howell P, 1997); http://www.womensmemorial.org/Education/BBH1998.html.
Patricia Bath, a prominent ophthalmologist, was born in Harlem, New York in 1942. Her parents, Rupert and Gladys Bath were both very supportive of her love for science and encouraged her to peruse a career in science. Bath's teachers throughout her early education were also supportive. Bath attended New York’s Charles Evans Hughes High School in Harlem. During her time there she excelled as a student earning herself a position after high school on a cancer research team at Yeshiva University and Harlem Hospital.
In 1960 she entered Hunter College in New York City obtaining a B.A in chemistry with honors four years later. Bath then enrolled in the Howard University Medical School receiving an M.D. degree in 1968. While in medical school Bath participated in a research project centered on children’s health in Yugoslavia. This experience persuaded her to make her life's work the treatment of impoverished populations around the globe through international medicine.
Ophthalmology became Bath's specialty after medical school. After working for a few years as a surgical assistant in New York hospitals, Bath went to Nigeria where she became the Chief of Ophthalmology at Mercy Hospital in Lagos, then the capital city. Bath became intrigued by the numerous cases of blindness she encountered in Nigeria and upon her return to the United States in 1978, founded the American Institute for Prevention of Blindness.
Otha Richard Sullivan, ed., Black Stars African American Women
Scientists & Inventors (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass A Wiley
Imprint, 2002); http://web.mit.edu/invent/iow/bath.html;
Osborne Perry Anderson was one of the five African American men to accompany John Brown in the raid on the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) in October 1859. Anderson was a free-born black abolitionist, born in West Fallow Field, Pennsylvania on July 27, 1830. Along with John Anthony Copeland Jr., another member of the Brown raiding party, Anderson attended Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. He later moved to Chatham, Canada, where he worked as a printer for Mary Ann Shadd's newspaper, the Provincial Freeman. In 1858 Anderson met John Brown and eventually became persuaded to join his band of men determined to attack Harpers Ferry.
Osborne Perry Anderson, A Voice from Harper's Ferry: A Narrative of
Events at Harper's Ferry with incidents Prior and Subsequent to its
Capture by Captain John Brown and His Men (Boston: Privately Printed,
1861); Timothy Patrick McCarthy and John Stauffer, Prophets of Protest:
Reconsidering the History of American Abolitionism (New York: The New
Press, 2006); Herb Boyd, Autobiography of a People: Three Centuries of
African American History Told by Those Who Lived It (New York:
Doubleday, 2000); Peggy A. Russo and Paul Finkelman, Terrible Swift
Sword: The Legacy of John Brown (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005);
Alexander Thomas Augusta was the highest-ranking black officer in the Union Army during the Civil War . He was also the first African American head of a hospital (Freedmen’s Hospital) and the first black professor of medicine (Howard University).
Augusta was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1825 to free African American parents. He moved to Baltimore as a youth to work as a barber while pursuing a medical education. The University of Pennsylvania would not accept him but a faculty member took interest in him and taught him privately. In 1847 he married Mary O. Burgoin, a Native American. By 1850, Augusta and his wife moved to Toronto where he was accepted by the Medical College at the University of Toronto where he received an M.B. in 1856. He was appointed head of the Toronto City Hospital and was also in charge of an industrial school.
On April 14, 1863, Augusta was commissioned (the first out of eight other black officers in the Civil War) as a major in the Union army and appointed head surgeon in the 7th U.S. Colored Infantry. His pay of $7 a month, however, was lower than that of white privates. He wrote Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson who raised his pay to the appropriate level for commissioned officers.
Joseph T. Glatthaar, Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black
Soldiers and White Officers (New York: Free Press, 1990); Herbert M.
Morais, The History of the Negro in Medicine (New York: Publishers Co.,
Susan Rice is the current National Security Advisor for the Barack Obama Administration. She is the first African American, the third woman, and the second youngest person to hold the position. Prior to being selected by President Obama for the post, Rice served as a key foreign policy advisor for the Obama campaign during the 2008 presidential race.
"New Negro Alliance" in Nina Mjagkij, ed., Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 2001); Jonathan Scott Holloway, Confronting the Veil: Abram Harris Jr, E. Franklin Frazier, and Ralph Bunche, 1919-1941 (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2002).
Lawrence C. Ross, Jr., The Divine Nine: The History of African-American Fraternities and Sororities in America (New York: Kensington, 2000); Daniel Soyer, "Fraternities and Sororities," Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History (New York: Macmillan Library Reference, 1996); Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated, 2007, http://www.omegapsiphifraternity.org/.
Walter Edward Washington, attorney and politician, was born in Dawson, Georgia, on April 15, 1915 to Willie Mae and William L. Washington. After his mother’s death in 1921, Washington moved with his father to Jamestown, New York. Washington excelled academically and athletically in the public school. His trumpeting skills in school also earned him the nickname Duke II. In 1934, he enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Washington earned his B.A. degree in 1938 and his law degree from the same institution in 1948. While attending law school, Washington met and married Benetta Bullock.
Following law school, Washington was employed as a supervisor for the District of Columbia’s Alley Dwelling Project. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy named Washington the executive director the National Capitol Housing Authority, becoming the first African American to hold that position.
Togo D. West Jr., attorney and government official, was born on June 21, 1942 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina to Togo D. West, Sr. and Evelyn Carter West. In 1959 he graduated as valedictorian from Atkins High School in that same city. In 1965, West enrolled at Howard University, earning his B.S. degree in electrical engineering. He switched to law and earned a J.D. degree from Howard University Law School in 1968, graduating first in his class. After he completed law school, West clerked for a federal judge in the Southern district of New York.
During the early 1970s, West served in the United States Army as a judge in the Judge Advocate General Corps. For his outstanding military service, West earned both the Legion of Merit award and the Meritorious Service Medal. Government officials recognized West’s distinguished military service and in 1973, he was appointed by President Gerald Ford as Deputy Attorney General of the U.S. Department of Justice. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed West as general counsel to the Navy and in 1979, West served as Deputy Secretary to the Secretary of Defense and general counsel to the Department of Defense from 1980 to 1981.
In 1981, West retired from government to become managing partner of the Washington, D.C. law firm, Patterson, Belknap, Webb, and Tyler. In 1990, West became the senior vice president for the Arlington, Virginia-based Northrop Corporation, a military aircraft manufacturer.
John Willis Menard, abolitionist, author, journalist and politician, was born in 1838 in Kaskaskia, Illinois, to French Creole parents. He was the first African American elected to Congress, but was not seated after a dispute over the election results. Menard attended Iberia College, an abolitionist school in Iberia, Ohio.
Twenty-two year old Menard expressed his abolitionist views in his widely read 1860 publication, An Address to the Free Colored People of Illinois. During the Civil War, he became the first African American to serve as a clerk in the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. While there, President Abraham Lincoln dispatched him to research British Honduras (now Belize) as a possible colony for the African American population.
Victor O. Frazer, attorney and politician, was born May 24, 1943 in Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands to Albert Frazer and Amanda Blyden. He graduated from Charlotte Amalie High School in 1960. In 1964, he earned a B.A. degree from Fisk University. In 1971, he received his J.D. from Howard University Law School and subsequently was admitted to legal bars of New York, Maryland, District of Columbia, and Virgin Islands.
In 1974 Frazer began his law career in Washington, D.C. at the Office of the Corporation Counsel (later known as the Office of the Attorney General of D.C.). He later served as a lawyer for the Interstate Commerce Commission and the U.S. Patent Office.
In 1987 he served as general counsel for the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority. Frazer’s congressional interest developed while working as an administrative assistant for California Representative Mervyn Dymally and as a special assistant for Michigan Representative John Conyers.
In 1921 Eva Beatrice Dykes became the first black woman in the United States to complete the required coursework for a Ph.D. and the third African American woman to receive a doctoral degree. Two other black women, Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander and Georgiana Simpson, receive their Ph.D.s, in the same year as Dykes but because their respective commencement ceremonies took place earlier, Dykes is considered the third woman to receive the advanced degree.
Eva Dykes was born in Washington, D.C. in 1893, and attended M Street High School which was later renamed Paul Dunbar High School. In 1914, twenty-one year old Dykes graduated Summa Cum Laude from Howard University with a B.A. in English. After spending one year teaching at Walden University in Nashville, Tennessee, she decided to seek a Master’s Degree at Radcliffe College, an all women’s college which is now a part of Harvard University. Radcliffe, however, would not accept her degree from Howard, forcing Dykes to earn a second B.A. in English from the Massachusetts institution in 1917. Nonetheless she graduated Magna Cum Laude, and the following year earned an M.A. from Radcliffe. While at Radcliffe Dykes was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She returned to Howard University in 1917 to complete her doctoral studies, earning the Ph.D. in 1921. Her dissertation focused on Alexander Pope’s views on slavery and his influence on American writers.
Elizabeth Catlett Mora was a prominent black political expressionist sculptor and printmaker in the 1960s and 1970s. Catlett was born to John and Mary Catlett who were public school teachers in Washington, D.C. She was the youngest of three children. After graduating from Dunbar High School in the District of Columbia in 1933, she studied design and drawing at Howard University, also in Washington, D.C. She graduated cum laude in 1935, after changing her major to painting and studying with Lois Mailou Jones among other art professors. In 1940, Catlett became the first student to receive a master’s of fine arts in sculpting from the University of Iowa.
Everett Frederic Morrow, the son of John Eugene Morrow, a library custodian who became an ordained Methodist minister in 1912 and Mary Ann Hayes, a former farm worker and maid, was born on April 9, 1909 in Hackensack, New Jersey. He graduated from Hackensack High School in 1925, where he not only served on the debate team for three years, but was their president his senior year.
Morrow attended Bowdoin College between 1926 and 1930 and at the time was one of only two African American students enrolled there. Morrow did well academically, but was forced to withdraw his senior year to help his family. He worked as a bank messenger on Wall Street and then secured a social work job. In 1935, Morrow joined the National Urban League as a business manager of Opportunity Magazine, and two years later became field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), traveling across the nation to promote membership and fundraising.
Hugh M. Browne was a civil rights activist and educator. Born June 12, 1851, in Washington D.C. to John and Elizabeth (Wormley) Browne, he is known for his work as the principal of the Institute for Colored Youth and his advocacy for vocational education.
After graduating from a segregated public school in Washington D.C., he studied at Howard University and graduated in 1875. That year he enrolled in the Theological Seminary of Princeton, graduating three years later and licensed as a Presbyterian minister.
After further education in Scotland, he became a professor at Liberia College in the Republic of Liberia, serving there from 1883 to 1886. He introduced a course on Industrial Education there, and attempted to reform Liberian higher education. This culminated in an essay he was invited to write, “The Higher Education of the Colored People of the South,” in which he advocated elementary and industrial education over abstract higher education, espousing the opinion that Liberians and blacks in the south currently need practical education and are not ready for a more literary education. His cultural and educational criticisms of Liberia created tension with the principal of Liberia College, leading to his restriction from teaching.
Composer and violinist Jose Silvestre White was born in Matansas, Cuba in 1835 to Don Carlos White and an Afro-Cuban mother. His father gave White his first instruction in violin, and he later studied with Jose Miguel Roman and Pedro Lecerff. In 1854, at eighteen, he gave his first concert performing themes from Rossini’s William Tell, and two of his own compositions, accompanied by Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Gottschalk enabled White to go to France and attend the prestigious Paris Conservatory. There he studied with the eminent violinists and composers, Jean-Delphin Alard, Henri Reber, and Ferdinand Taite. In 1856, after only a year of study, he won the Grand Prize in violin from the Conservatory. By 1858 he began a tour of Europe, the Caribbean, South America, and Mexico.
Musician, composer, professor, and conductor Fela Sowande was born May 1905 in Abeokuta, Nigeria. He was the son of Emmanuel Sowande, who was an Anglican priest and influential in the development of Nigerian sacred music. Fela Sowande was a musician and composer of music in the classical European style.
Sowande studied at CMS Grammar School and King’s College, Lagos and received his Fellowship Diploma (FRCO) from the Royal College of Organists in Lagos. He also worked as a band leader and was heavily influenced by jazz and popular music as well as the church music of his father and mentor. After moving to London, UK in 1934, Sowande received his Bachelor of Music degree from the University of London and became a Fellow of Trinity College of Music.
Winning the Pulitzer Prize for Music is one of the multitude of richly deserved tributes to composer, pianist, and educator George Theophilus
Walker. His prolific career continues into his 90s with his commissioned Sinfonia
No. 4 (Strands), premiered in 2012 by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.
George Theophilus Walker was born June 27, 1922 in Washington, D.C. to George T. and Rosa Walker. His father emigrated from Jamaica and became a prominent physician. His mother began his obligatory piano lessons at five years old. He grew to love music and entered Oberlin School of Music at 14, receiving a B.M. degree with class honors in 1941.
Sources: George Walker, Reminiscences of an American Composer and Pianist (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2009); Interviews by mosaicclassics, “George Walker, Composer,” State of the Arts, 2012.
Contributor: Affiliation: Independent Historian
Norris McDonald, a leading black environmentalist, is the founder and president of the African American Environmental Association (AAEA), an organization dedicated to protecting the environment, enhancing human, animal and plant ecologies, and increasing African American participation in the environmental movement.
Norris McDonald was born to parents Sandy Norris McDonald Sr. and Katie Louvina Best in 1958 in Thomasville, North Carolina. Norris McDonald Sr. was a high school principal and Katie Louvina Best worked for the local public school system. She died of breast cancer at the age of 26.
McDonald attended Wake Forest University where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1977. After college, McDonald moved to Washington, D.C. hoping to find a job as a Congressional staffer. Instead, he was hired as a staffer at the Environmental Policy Institute in 1979 (now called Friends of the Earth) where he worked for the next seven years. McDonald’s primary duties included media relations, public education, researching, lobbying, and fund raising. During this time, McDonald was introduced to environmental issues across the nation. He also noticed that there were no black professionals working for environmental groups in the Washington, D.C. area. The absence of black professionals in those organizations inspired him to create the AAEA in 1985.
Ellen Euphemia Johnson was born in Monrovia, Liberia on October 29, 1938, to Jahmale Carney Johnson, an attorney descended from a Gola chief, and Martha Dunbar, a mixed-race (Kru and German) teacher. Johnson grew up with one sister and two brothers.
From 1948 until 1955, Johnson studied accounting and economics at the College of West Africa in Monrovia. In 1956, she married James “Doc” Sirleaf. Over the next few years, while Doc worked as a teacher at the Booker Washington Institute, a vocational high school in Liberia, she was a homemaker.
Johnson Bunche, American political scientist, renowned scholar, award winner,
and diplomat, was one of the most prominent African Americans of his era. Bunche was born on August 7, 1903 or 1904
(there is some disagreement about the year of his birth) in Detroit, Michigan. His father Fred was a barber
who owned a racially segregated barbershop
that catered solely to white customers. His mother, whose maiden name was Olive
Agnes Johnson, was an amateur musician.
Young Ralph spent his early years in Michigan. However, due to the relatively poor physical constitution of his mother and grandmother’s uncle, Charlie Johnson, the family settled in Albuquerque, New Mexico when he was ten years old. The family believed the dry climate of the region would be more conducive to his parents’ health. Yet both his mother and uncle died when Ralph turned twelve. His mother died of tuberculosis in 1917. His uncle committed suicide the same year. The circumstances surrounding his father are less fully known. The common narrative is that he left the family, remarried, and never returned.
Rivlin, Ralph Bunche: The Man and His Times (New York: Holmes &
Meyer, 1990); Brian Urquhart, Ralph Bunche: An American Life (New York: W.W. Norton,
Affiliation: East Tennessee State University
On December 25, 1829 Solomon Northup married Anne Hampton and the couple had three children: Elizabeth, Margaret, and Alonzo. The Northup family sold the family farm and moved to Glens Falls, New York where he worked numerous seasonal jobs around their county of residence. His wife also contributed to the family’s income as a part-time cook at various taverns in rural New York State. Northup eventually gained a reputation as a brilliant violinist who entertained large audiences throughout rural New York.
In the extended article that appears below historians Daudi Abe and Quintard Taylor explore the history of African Americans in Martin Luther King County from 1858 to 2014. They analyze the forces which encouraged people of African ancestry to settle in the county and discuss the rapid political, social, and economic changes that its black residents have faced since the first arrival, Manuel Lopes, came to the county in 1858.
With 119,801 people of African ancestry in a total population of 1,931,249 people, Martin Luther King, Jr. County is the most populous county in the state of Washington and is home to 29% of the state’s inhabitants and half of Washington’s black population. It is also the only county in the United States named after the 20th Century civil rights icon.
On September 20, 2014, a forty-two year-old Liberian native, Thomas Eric Duncan, arrived in Dallas, Texas from a plane flight that originated in Monrovia, Liberia. Duncan came to the United States ostensibly to reunite with his estranged teenaged son and the boy’s mother, Louise Troh, who had at one time been his girlfriend in Liberia. Troh and her son lived in Dallas.
After graduating from Barnard College in 1943, she took a job as an interviewer for the United Seamen's Service. In 1946, she founded a modeling agency and charm school, Barbara Watson Models, serving as the agency's executive director until 1956.
Career Foreign Service Officer Bernadette Mary Allen was commissioned into the U.S. diplomatic service in January 1980. Twenty-five years later, on October 26, 2005, President George W. Bush appointed Allen to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Niger. She served until January 15, 2010.
Allen was born on June 5, 1955 in Washington, D.C. and raised in nearby Seat Pleasant, Prince George’s County, Maryland. In 1977, in a study year abroad program, Allen earned a Certificate in French Civilization from the Sorbonne University in Paris, France. In 1978 Allen earned a B.A. in French Civilization and Linguistics, at Central College in Pella, Iowa.