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Constance Porter Uzelac

aviator, was born Elizabeth Coleman in Atlanta, Texas, the daughter of George Coleman, a day laborer of predominantly Indian descent, and Susan (maiden name unknown), an African American domestic and farmworker. While Bessie was still very young, the family moved to Waxahachie, Texas, where they built a three-room house on a quarter-acre of land. She was seven when her father left his family to return to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma). The Coleman household was Baptist, and Bessie was an avid reader who became particularly interested in Booker T. Washington, Harriet Tubman, and Paul Laurence Dunbar. After finishing high school, she studied for one semester at Langston Industrial College, in Langston, Oklahoma.

Between 1912 and 1917 Coleman joined her two brothers in Chicago where she studied manicuring at Burnham s School of Beauty Culture and worked at the White Sox Barber Shop She supplemented her income ...

Article

Spencie Love

blood plasma scientist, surgeon, and teacher, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Richard Thomas Drew, a carpet-layer, and Nora Rosella Burrell. Drew adored his hard-working parents and was determined from an early age to emulate them. Drew's parents surrounded their children with the many opportunities available in Washington's growing middle-class black community: excellent segregated schools, solid church and social affiliations, and their own strong example. Drew's father was the sole black member of his union and served as its financial secretary.

Drew graduated from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in 1922 and received a medal for best all around athletic performance he also won a scholarship to Amherst College At Amherst he was a star in football and track earning honorable mention as an All American halfback in the eastern division receiving the Howard Hill Mossman Trophy for bringing the greatest athletic ...

Article

John C. Fredriksen

soldier and engineer, was born in Thomasville, Georgia, the son of Festus Flipper and Isabelle (maiden name unknown), slaves. During the Civil War and Reconstruction he was educated in American Missionary Association schools and in 1873 gained admission to Atlanta University. That year Flipper also obtained an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy through the auspices of Republican Representative James C. Freeman. He was not the first African American to attend West Point, as Michael Howard and James Webster Smith preceded him in 1870, but neither graduated. Flipper subsequently endured four years of grueling academic instruction and ostracism from white classmates before graduating fiftieth in a class of sixty-four on 14 June 1877. He was commissioned second lieutenant in the all-black Tenth U. S. Cavalry, and the following year recounted his academy experience in an autobiography, The Colored Cadet at West Point (1878 ...

Article

Charles W. Jr. Carey

chemist, was born in Montgomery, Alabama, the son of James Sumner Julian, a railway mail clerk, and Elizabeth Lena Adams, a teacher. He received his AB from DePauw University in 1920, and for the next two years he taught chemistry at Fisk University. In 1922 he was awarded Harvard University's Austin Fellowship in chemistry; he received his MA from that school in 1923. He remained at Harvard for three more years as a research assistant in biophysics and organic chemistry. In 1926 he joined the faculty at West Virginia State College, and in 1928 he became associate professor and head of the chemistry department at Howard University. The following year he was awarded a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation's General Education Board to pursue his doctorate at the University of Vienna in Austria, where he earned that degree in organic chemistry in 1931 After ...

Article

Kenneth R. Manning

zoologist, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Charles Fraser Just, a carpenter and wharf builder, and Mary Mathews Cooper. Following his father's death in 1887, his mother moved the family to James Island, off the South Carolina coast. There she labored in phosphate mines, opened a church and a school, and mobilized farmers into a moss-curing enterprise. A dynamic community leader, she was the prime mover behind the establishment of a township—Maryville—named in her honor. Maryville served as a model for all-black town governments elsewhere.

Just attended his mother's school, the Frederick Deming Jr. Industrial School, until the age of twelve. Under her influence, he entered the teacher-training program of the Colored Normal, Industrial, Agricultural and Mechanical College (now South Carolina State College) in Orangeburg, South Carolina, in 1896. After graduating in 1899 he attended Kimball Union Academy in Meriden New ...

Article

Eric Bennett

Born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, Lewis Latimer was the son of an escaped slave from Virginia whom African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass and American abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison defended when his former owner tried to have him extradited. As a boy Latimer worked in his father's barbershop and peddled Garrison's newspaper, the Liberator. Latimer later joined the Union Navy during the Civil War, serving on the U.S.S. Massasoit on the James River in Virginia. After an honorable discharge in 1865, he found work with Crosby & Gould, a firm of patent lawyers. Although Latimer was hired as an office boy, he cultivated drafting skills in his spare time until he was qualified for blueprint work. In addition to drawing plans for other people's inventions, Latimer brainstormed his own, patenting in 1874 a “pivot bottom” for water closets on trains. His high-caliber draftsmanship impressed Alexander Graham Bell ...

Article

Valika Smeulders

was born enslaved at Twijfelachtig, a coffee plantation alongside the Cottica River in Suriname, most probably in September 1851, although some sources state 1852 or 1854 as his year of birth. His father, Ernst Carel Martzilger, was an engineer with German roots who worked for the Dutch colonial government in Suriname, and his mother, Aletta, was an enslaved housekeeper of African descent, who died in December 1854. The owner of the Twijfelachtig plantation was married to Henrietta Jacoba Martzilger, who was Ernst Carel Martzilger’s sister. Jan Ernst had several names: first Ernst Martzil, then Jan Ernst Martzilger, and later, in the United States, John Ernst Matzeliger. His last names suggest an affectionate connection to the Martzilger family. After his manumission in 1862 he moved to Suriname s capital Paramaribo to live with his paternal aunt Henriette who lived on the Domineestraat He started work at the machine ...

Article

Portia P. James

inventor, was born in Colchester, Canada West (now Ontario), the son of George McCoy and Mildred Goins, former slaves who had escaped from Kentucky. In 1849 his parents moved the family to Ypsilanti, Michigan, where Elijah began attending school. In 1859 he went to Edinburgh, Scotland, to undertake an apprenticeship as a mechanical engineer; he stayed there five years.

Unable to obtain a position as an engineer after he returned to the United States, McCoy began working as a railroad fireman for the Michigan Central Railroad. This position exposed him to the problems of steam engine lubrication and overheating. Locomotive engines had to be periodically oiled by hand, a time-consuming task that caused significant delays in railroad transport of commercial goods and passengers. Poorly lubricated locomotives also used more fuel than those that were efficiently lubricated.

McCoy began his career as an inventor by first examining and improving ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

inventor and entrepreneur, was born in 1875 or 1877 in Paris, Kentucky, the seventh of eleven children to former slaves Elizabeth “Eliza” Reed, a woman of African and American Indian ancestry, and Sydney Morgan, a railroad worker of mixed race. Garrett left home for Cincinnati, Ohio, at age fourteen with only six years of education. After six years working as a handyman for a wealthy landowner, he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he remained until his death. Enchanted by all things mechanical, Garrett worked as a mechanic for several sewing machine shops and in 1901 sold his first invention, a sewing machine belt fastener.

Morgan opened his own sewing machine sales and repair shop in 1907. He soon earned enough money to buy a house and help support his mother, and in 1908 he married a seamstress, Mary Anne Hassek The union lasted fifty five ...

Article

Kenneth R. Manning

physician, microbiologist, and public health specialist, was born on a farm near Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Fred Poindexter and Luvenia Gilberta Clarke, tenant farmers. After attending the normal (teacher training) department of Swift Memorial College, a Presbyterian school for blacks in Rogersville, Tennessee (1916–1920), he entered Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and graduated with an AB cum laude in 1924. Also in 1924 he married Ruth Viola Grier, with whom he would have one child, a daughter. He attended Dartmouth Medical School for two years before earning an MD at Harvard University in 1929, an AM in Bacteriology at Columbia University in 1930, a PhD in Bacteriology and Parasitology at Columbia in 1932, and an MPH from Columbia in 1937.

Poindexter had hoped to proceed directly into public health fieldwork in 1929 following his graduation from Harvard ...

Article

Gary L. Frost

mechanical and electrical engineer and inventor, was born in Columbus, Ohio. Nothing is known of Woods's parents except that they may have been named Tailer and Martha Woods. The effects of racism in Columbus, shortly before and during the Civil War, were somewhat blunted by the economic influence of a sizable African American population, which included artisans and property holders, and by growing sympathy among whites for abolitionism. Only a few years before Woods's birth, the city established a system of segregated schools for black children, which provided him an education until he was ten years old.

Like almost all American engineers during the nineteenth century, Woods obtained his technical training largely through self-study and on-the-job experience, rather than from formal schooling. Sometime after 1866 he began apprenticing as a blacksmith and machinist probably in Cincinnati where several decades earlier German immigrants had established a flourishing machine tool ...