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Article

Caroline M. Brown

aviation mechanic and pilot, was born in Quitman, Wood County, Texas, the youngest of three children; both of his parents were teachers. Allen's father died when Thomas was three months old. His mother, Polly, continued to teach school and to run the family farm.

Allen became interested in flying in 1918, when an airplane made a forced landing in a pasture. The pilots paid the two young Allen brothers to guard the plane overnight so that its fabric and glue would not be eaten by cows. From this experience, Thomas Allen decided to become either an aviator or a mechanic.

In 1919 when Allen was twelve the family moved to Oklahoma City where his mother resumed teaching school Allen often bicycled to a nearby airfield In his teens he persuaded the field owner to take a $100 saxophone as partial trade for flying lessons He worked off the ...

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Kenyatta D. Berry

engineer, machinist, and inventor, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of the free blacks Thomas and Hannah Baltimore. Though his father was a Catholic, Jeremiah followed his mother's influence and adopted the Methodist religion. As a child Jeremiah was fascinated with engineering and science. He was known to have experimented often with such utilitarian things as tin cans, coffeepots, stovepipes, and brass bucket hoops.

Jeremiah was educated at the Sabbath School of the Wesley Zion Church in Washington, D.C., which was located on Fourth Street near Virginia Avenue and was founded in 1839 after black members left the Ebenezer Church. As part of his education Jeremiah also attended the school of Enoch Ambush, which had begun operation in about 1833 in the basement of the Israel Bethel Church and remained open until 1864 Despite his attendance Jeremiah left unable either to read or to ...

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Brad S. Born

Benjamin Banneker was born 9 November 1731in Baltimore County, Maryland, the first child of free African American parents Mary Banneker and Robert, a former slave whose freedom she had purchased and who took her surname upon marriage. Growing up on their tobacco farm, Benjamin received little formal schooling, learning to read and write from his grandmother and attending for several seasons an interracial school where he first developed his lifelong interest in mathematics. Following his parents’ deaths and three sisters’ departures from home, Banneker remained on the farm, working the crops and cultivating his intellect in relative seclusion.

In 1771, he befriended George Ellicott a Quaker neighbor whose family had developed a large complex of mills on the adjoining property With astronomical texts and instruments borrowed from Ellicott he trained himself to calculate ephemerides tables establishing the positioning of the sun moon and stars for each day ...

Article

Aaron Myers

Born in Baltimore County, Maryland, Benjamin Banneker was one of several children born to Robert, a freed slave from Guinea, and Mary Banneker. Mary's mother, Molly Welsh, came to the American colonies as an indentured servant from England and later married one of her slaves, an African of royal descent named Bannaka or Banneky. Banneker and his sisters were born free and grew up on a self-sufficient tobacco farm of 40 hectares (100 acres). Banneker received the equivalent of an eighth-grade education at a local integrated school and was also tutored by his grandmother. Growing up, he spent much of his free time devising and solving mathematical puzzles. He took over the farm after his father's death in 1759.

In the eighteenth century clocks and watches were rare devices constructed in metal by skilled artisans At the age of twenty two Banneker created a ...

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Silvio A. Bedini

farmer and astronomer, was born near the Patapsco River in Baltimore County in what became the community of Oella, Maryland, the son of Robert, a freed slave, and Mary Banneky a daughter of a freed slave named Bannka and Molly Welsh a freed English indentured servant who had been transported to Maryland Banneker was taught by his white grandmother to read and write from a Bible He had no formal education other than a brief attendance at a Quaker one room school during winter months He was a voracious reader informing himself in his spare time in literature history religion and mathematics with whatever books he could borrow From an early age he demonstrated a talent for mathematics and for creating and solving mathematical puzzles With his three sisters he grew up on his father s tobacco farm and for the rest of his life Banneker continued to ...

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Frank Towers

Benjamin Banneker was born on a farm near Elkridge Landing, Maryland, on the Patapsco River, ten miles southwest of Baltimore. His mother, Mary Banneky, was a freeborn African American. Her parents were Molly Welsh, an English indentured servant, and Bannaka, a Dogon nobleman captured in the slave trade and bought by Molly Welsh. In 1700 Welsh freed Bannaka, and they married. Benjamin's father, was born in Africa and transported to America as a slave, where he was known as Robert. In Maryland, Robert purchased his freedom and married Bannaka and Molly's daughter, Mary Banneky, whose surname he adopted and later changed to Banneker. Robert's success in tobacco farming enabled him to buy enough land (seventy-two acres) to support his son and three younger daughters.

Benjamin Banneker was intellectually curious especially about mathematics and science but he had little formal education Scholars disagree about claims that he attended school for ...

Article

Billy Scott

physician, otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat specialist), inventor, and administrator, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of George W. Barnes, a laborer, and Eliza Webb Barnes and his two sisters lived poverty stricken lives on Lombard Street in a very poor area of the city Barnes decided at an early age to become a physician a decision unheard of and regarded in his neighborhood as preposterous His parents tried to discourage him from pursuing what to them seemed an impossible dream for a poor black youth hoping rather that he would focus on finding realistic employment Nevertheless determined Barnes walked ten miles every day to and from school and from his after school work as a porter and messenger for jewelry shops During summers he worked as a porter in hotels Seeing those who lived a far different and more elegant life than his own inspired ...

Article

Roland Barksdale-Hall

inventor, was born in Jefferson County, Alabama, the son of Milton Beard and Creasey Tatum, both former slaves on the Beard family plantation. He adopted the name of his former master at age fifteen after he was liberated by Union forces. A year later, he married Edie Beard, about whom nothing else is known. The couple raised three children: John, Jack, and Andrew Jr.; the latter died following graduation from high school. Like most former slaves, however, Beard was illiterate and remained so throughout his life.

After the Civil War, Beard worked as a sharecropper on his former master's farm until he was about eighteen years old and then moved to St. Clair County, Alabama. In 1872 he made a three week journey from Birmingham to Montgomery on an oxcart that carried fifty bushels of apples which he sold for approximately two hundred dollars He eventually ...

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Audra J. Wolfe

chemist and educator, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the eldest son of Thomas Brady, a tobacco factory laborer, and Celester Brady, both of whom were born free around the time of the Civil War. Brady's father, himself illiterate, made sure that all of his children attended school. St. Elmo Brady graduated from high school with honors before enrolling at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1904. At Fisk, he studied with Thomas W. Talley, who was regarded as one of the best chemistry teachers in the black college system.

After graduating from Fisk in 1908 Brady accepted a teaching position at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He quickly became friends with both Booker T. Washington, the institute's first president and leading advocate, and George Washington Carver the scientist famous for his agricultural research on peanuts soybeans sweet potatoes and pecans Brady was deeply impressed ...

Article

Linda Spencer

the first African American to work at the Smithsonian Institute, naturalist, and poet, was born free in what is now the Anacostia section of Washington, D.C. He was the fourth of six children born to Isaac and Rachel Brown. Little is known about Brown's family, except that his father died in 1833 and consequently the family struggled financially and lost their home in 1834. Brown received no formal education as a youngster. Because of prejudice and slavery in the 1800s, public education was not provided to free blacks living in Washington, D.C., until after the Emancipation Act in 1862. Brown was a self-educated man.

Accounts of Brown s early life indicate that there was an arrangement for him to live in the care of the assistant postmaster of Washington D C Lambert Tree Whether Brown was a household servant or an apprentice in Tree s work at ...

Article

Robert C. Hayden

Born on February 14, 1829, near Boundary and 14th Streets NW in Washington, D.C., Solomon G. Brown was the fourth of six children born to Isaac and Rachel Brown, both free blacks. Solomon's father died in 1833, leaving his mother and siblings with a heavy debt. The father's property, taken in 1834 to settle the debts, left the family poor and homeless. As a child, Solomon was not able to acquire a formal education, since there were very few schools for blacks in Washington at that time.

At age fifteen Brown began working under the assistant postmaster in the Washington, D.C., post office. He was assigned to assist American physicist Joseph Henry and American artist and inventor Samuel F. B. Morse in the installation of the first Morse magnetic telegraph system between Washington and Baltimore, Maryland Morse had invented the electromagnetic telegraph system during the ...

Article

Robert G. McGuire

Hugh M. Browne was born in Washington, D.C., in June 1851 to John Browne and Elizabeth Wormley. He had family connections among the most prominent free African Americans in Washington. His maternal aunt Mary Wormley established a school for free African Americans in 1832, and other members of the Wormley family owned a boardinghouse patronized by the Washington political elite. His paternal aunt Mary Browne Syphax was married to William Syphax, who had a position in the office of the secretary of the interior and who was a member of the board of trustees of the black public schools of Washington. Browne was educated in the schools of Washington, D.C. He received his B.A. degree from Howard University in 1875 and his M.A. degree in 1878. In 1878 he also received a B D degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and was ordained in the ...

Article

Todd Palmer

architect, planner and developer, was born in Towson, Maryland, and grew up in Baltimore, the third child of Albert Truman and Charlotte Cassell. His father drove a coal truck and played trumpet for the Salvation Army Band; his mother brought in extra income doing washing. As a 14-year-old, Cassell expressed an ambition to build at Douglass High, a segregated public vocational school. While studying carpentry he enrolled in a drafting course with Ralph Victor Cook. Cook became a mentor to Cassell and encouraged him to pursue a college education in architecture at Cornell University, where Cook had been an early African American graduate of engineering.

Cassell entered Cornell in 1915, but two years into the program, World War I interrupted his studies. Cassell enlisted in the U.S. Army. In 1919 he returned to the United States from France with an honorable discharge Because Cornell ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

best known as the reputed inventor of the potato chip, who established his own restaurant in the resort community of Saratoga Springs, New York. His ancestry and ethnicity are a matter of speculation; he may have been best described in Saratoga Springs, New York: A Brief History as “of thoroughly mixed American blood.” He is generally reported in census data from 1850 to 1880 as mulatto and in later censuses as black. It is commonly said that his mother was of Native American descent and that he “looked Indian.”

Crum was born in Malta, New York, to Abraham (or Abram) Speck and his wife Catherine. Although oral accounts suggest Speck was from Kentucky and possibly had been enslaved there, the 1820 Federal Census shows a “Free Colored Person” male, age twenty-six to forty-five, of that name, living in New York, and the 1840 Census shows a free ...

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

James N. Leiker

soldier, engineer, and author. Although Flipper is best remembered as the first African American graduate of West Point, he later had an important career as an authority on the border between the United States and Mexico. Born into slavery in Thomasville, Georgia, Henry was the son of Festus and Isabella Flipper. His father, a slave and local shoemaker, and his mother, the slave of a Methodist minister, believed in the importance of formal education, and this was a value they passed on to their sons during the heady optimism of Reconstruction. While attending Atlanta University, Flipper attracted the attention of a local congressman, who appointed him to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The social atmosphere at West Point proved difficult and demanding for its handful of young black cadets, but Flipper persevered and graduated in 1877 A prolific writer he chronicled this ...

Article

Pamela C. Edwards

inventor and entrepreneur, blazed a path for black female inventors, yet little is known of her early life. Neither her parents' names nor her exact date or place of birth are known one biographer indicates that she was born in the 1850s and grew up in slavery. After the Civil War ended and former slaves in the South were emancipated, Goode, like thousands of African Americans, made her way north, taking up residence in Chicago by the early 1880s. In Chicago, she owned and operated a furniture store, and her entrepreneurial endeavors led to her become the first African American woman to receive a patent from the United States Patent Office. On 14 July 1885 Goode received her patent for a Folding Cabinet Bed comparable to modern sofa or hideaway beds The first of five black women to patent new inventions in the nineteenth century she was a ...

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

Brandon Portal

possible former slave, self-taught master builder, engineer, contractor, and property manager, was born in New Haven, Connecticut. His parentage is unknown. Although little is certain about Lanson's early life, a Connecticut Journal notice appeared on 5 December 1799 in which Solomon Fisk of Southington, Connecticut, put out a $10 reward for the return of a runaway “Negro servant” by the name of Lanson. It is possible that this was the same Lanson. At some point, Lanson married his wife, Nancy.

The first public record of Lanson was a contract for the extension of New Haven's Long Wharf, for construction that took place from 1810 to 1812 The Long Wharf expansion was essential to the prosperity of New Haven for decades the shallow harbor area had posed a danger to larger cargo ships and severely curtailed trade Lanson overcame this obstacle by extending the wharf ...

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 ...