Wilkins, J. Ernest, Sr.
- Carolyn Wilkins
assistant United States secretary of labor and member of the first U.S. Civil Rights Commission, was born in Farmington, Missouri, the youngest child of Susie Douthit and John Bird Wilkins, a journalist, inventor, teacher and Baptist minister. After Wilkins' father disappeared in 1900, his mother worked as a domestic servant to support the family. Her stoicism, self-reliance and determination in the face of adversity deeply influenced Wilkins' character. He graduated from elementary school a year ahead of schedule before attending Lincoln Institute, a secondary school founded by African American Civil War veterans Jefferson City, Missouri. In 1914 he enrolled at the University of Illinois, majored in mathematics and graduated with honors in 1918. Although he had been inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa society for his academic achievements Wilkins' professors discouraged him from pursuing graduate study in mathematics because he was black He enlisted in the ...
A version of this article originally appeared in African American National Biography.