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Sherri J. Norris

chemical engineer and environmental engineering entrepreneur, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the second of four daughters of Ernest Buford Abron and Bernice Wise Abron, both educators. Abron was educated in Memphis public schools and was a member of the National Honor Society. Abron divorced and had three sons, Frederick, Ernest, and David; she is occasionally credited as Lilia Ann Abron-Robinson.

Abron stayed close to home when she attended LeMoyne College, a historically black college in Memphis, Tennessee. She considered medical school, but she was persuaded by her advisor, Dr. Beuler, to pursue a career in engineering instead. Her decision was a risky one. She did not know of any African Americans with engineering degrees who were actually working as engineers; instead, she once said in an interview, they were often working in post offices. In 1966 Abron received her BS in Chemistry from ...

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James G. Spady

One of thirteen children, Robert Mara Adger was born in Charleston, South Carolina. His father, Robert Adger, was black, and his mother, Mary Ann Morong, was Native American. In 1848 the family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Adger's father first found a job as a waiter in the Old Merchant's Hotel. Later, while working as a nurse, he industriously saved enough funds to open a furniture business. He was involved in many activities and was a founder of the Benjamin Banneker Institute.

Robert Mara Adger received his early training at the Bird School, an early black educational institution in the United States. During his teenage years, he worked in his father's furniture stores, which had expanded from one in 1850 to three by 1858 Serving as a manager provided him with the business experience that he later found valuable as director of the Philadelphia Building and ...

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Baye Yimam

Ethiopian painter, diplomat, customs director, entrepreneur, linguist, university professor, and novelist, was born in Zage, Gojjam province of Ethiopia, on 10 July 1868. His father, Gebre Iyesus Denke, was a priest serving a local church, and his mother, Fenta Tehun Adego Ayechew, was presumably a housewife. In Zage, then a center of learning, Afewerq learned the painting, poetry, church music, and liturgical dancing of the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian tradition.

Afewerq was related to Empress Taytu Betul, wife of Emperor Menilek (1844–1913 on account of which he was brought to the palace to continue what he had started in Zage He was later sent to Italy to further his studies at the Accademia Albertina di Belle Arti in Turin Upon his return from Italy he began to produce mural paintings by order of the palace and decorated the churches at Entotto then the capital city However he soon ...

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Theresa A. Hammond

business leader and educator, born in rural Fallis, Oklahoma territory, to Lester Blayton, a Baptist preacher and Mattie E. Carter, a schoolteacher. Despite having only a fourth‐grade education Mattie Blayton was a schoolteacher who continually underscored the importance of academic achievement. Blayton's father, the mixed‐race, illiterate son of a Creek Indian, was a shaman before becoming a preacher. Blayton attended federally funded elementary and high schools for Native Americans in Meridian, Oklahoma. Later in life he reported that he had been unaware of the poverty of his childhood, though he noted that the only job he had ever hated was when his parents rented him and the family mule out by the day to work in the fields.

With his parents encouragement Blayton attended Langston University working menial jobs to cover his costs His education was interrupted when he volunteered for the U S Army during World War ...

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Adam R. Hornbuckle

was born in Laurel, Mississippi, the youngest of ten children born to Peter and Eulalia Boston. His father, who worked as a fireman for the Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio Railroad before losing sight in his right eye, provided for the family by farming, hauling junk, and doing other odd jobs. His mother was a homemaker. As a student at Oak Park High School in Laurel, Boston developed both academic and athletic skills. As quarterback on the football team, he led Oak Park to the African American state high school football championship in 1956. In track and field, Boston excelled in the hurdling, sprinting, and jumping events. As a junior in 1956 he established a national high school record in the 180-yard low hurdles and led Oak Park to the first of two consecutive African American state high school track championships.

After graduating high school in 1957 Boston earned ...

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Jeff Berg

teacher, farmer, and entrepreneur, was born Frances Marion Boyer in Pelham, Georgia, the son of Henry Boyer, a former slave and one-time teamster for the U.S. Army. Nothing is known of Boyer's mother. In 1846 the elder Boyer passed through the Pecos Valley region of -New Mexico. Impressed by the -spaces the elder Boyer returned to his home in Georgia and reportedly spoke regularly about returning to New Mexico with his family and friends. Henry Boyer was never able to realize his dream, but his youn son Frank, one of eight children, probably went well beyond anything his father had thought of doing when he later founded Blackdom, one of the first -towns in New Mexico, albeit one of the last founded in -America. Frank Boyer was educated at the Atlanta Baptist Seminary and later received his bachelor s degree in teacher s education from ...

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Lisa E. Rivo

draftsman, lithographer, painter, and entrepreneur, was born free in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to Thomas Brown and Wilhelmina (maiden name unknown). Nothing is known about Brown's family or childhood. It appears that in the mid-1850s, Brown moved to San Francisco on the heels of the gold rush. While black fur traders, including Edward Rose and Jim Beckwourth, had already explored the West by the mid-1850s, few African Americans were living in California before this time. By 1860, though, close to five thousand blacks had moved to California, including Mary Ellen Pleasant and Edmond Wysinger. Just what precipitated Brown's decision to move to San Francisco is unknown, but records show that by 1861 he was employed as a draftsman for the commercial lithography firm of Kuchel and Dressel While his skill is evidenced by the quality work he produced for the firm Brown must also have been considered a ...

Article

Claranne Perkins

teacher, educator, and entrepreneur, was born Marva Delores Nettles in Monroeville, Alabama, the daughter of Henry Knight Jr., an entrepreneur, and Bessie Maye Knight Nettles, a housewife. A child of the Depression and segregated schools, Collins recalls the talk of grown-ups about “how times were hard and there was no money” (Collins and Tamarkin, p. 32), but she remembered that the Depression had little impact on her childhood.

Her father was one of the richest black men in Monroeville Collins and Tamarkin p 32 Their house was one of the finest in the black section of Monroeville with polished wood floors and store bought furniture Her mother dressed her like a doll in ruffled ribboned dresses and crisply pleated store bought school dresses tied in back with an ironed sash Her classmates for the most part wore homemade clothes from empty twenty five pound flour ...

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Amy M. Hay

Marva Nettles Collins fought for equality by providing an education to hundreds of children in Chicago’s West Side. Collins’s methods and success attracted national attention, and she was asked several times by Presidents Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush to become secretary of education, a position she declined. Collins’s life shows the importance of the professions in achieving equal rights and the significance of education and teachers within the black community.

Henry and Bessie Knight’s first and only child together, Marva Collins was born in Monroeville, Alabama. Henry Knight worked hard and ran various businesses among them a grocery store a funeral parlor and a cattle business The Knight family lived well despite the Depression Marva spent the first twelve years of her life in Monroeville attending the Bethlehem Academy Her paternal grandmother taught her to read by reading out loud from the Bible Marva became ...

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Paul Stillwell

pioneer black naval officer, was born in Washington, North Carolina, the eighth of eleven children of Edward L. Cooper, a sheet metal worker, and Laura J. Cooper a homemaker One of the eleven siblings died in infancy the remaining ten became college graduates During his upbringing in North Carolina Cooper often faced the tribulations of southern racism He went to segregated schools and learned from his parents that he had to go out of his way to avoid conflict with whites Once when Cooper was eight or nine years old he got into a fight with a white boy As he put it It was the wrong day for him to call me a nigger and we had it out Stillwell 76 Cooper s father had to smooth things over with the boy s father to avoid the incident s escalation When he worked as a bellhop in ...

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Theresa A. Hammond

educator and the first African American Certified Public Accountant (CPA), was born in the District of Columbia to John Wesley Cromwell Sr. and Lucy A. McGuinn. His grandfather, Willis H. Cromwell, had purchased his family's freedom from slavery and moved from Virginia to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1851. Cromwell's father was a leader in the African American community, an 1874 graduate of Howard University School of Law, the publisher of the People's Advocate newspaper, one of the first two African American clerks in the federal government, a prolific writer, and a public school teacher and principal in Washington, D.C.

John Jr. absorbed his family's values of education, achievement, and responsibility to the black community. He attended the preparatory high school at Howard University and entered Dartmouth College in 1902 at a time when fewer than a dozen African Americans had graduated from that latter institution. In 1900 ...

Article

Lois Kerschen

Clinton Bowen Fisk, the sixth son of Benjamin and Lydia Fisk, was born in Livingston County, New York. His father had been a captain in the army, and his grandfather served as a major general under George Washington. The Fisk family moved to a settlement they called Clinton in Lenawee County, Michigan, while Clinton Bowen was still an infant. Benjamin Fisk died when Clinton was six, however, and Lydia was not able to hold onto the property. At age nine, Clinton Fisk apprenticed himself to a local farmer, but one year later he had to return home because his younger brother died. When Fisk was thirteen, his mother married William Smith, a successful farmer from Spring Arbor, who sent Fisk to Albion Seminary, a Methodist school in Michigan.

Fisk later went into business as a clerk for L. D. Crippen of Coldwater Michigan and married Crippen s ...

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Ayesha Kanji

marketing executive and educator, was born in Washington, D.C., to William H. Fitzhugh, a messenger for the Department of Agriculture, and Lillian (maiden name unknown), a counselor at one of the local junior high schools. Both of his parents were involved in the community, his mother in civic affairs and his father through his membership in the Order of the Elks, a fraternal organization whose mission is to cultivate good fellowship and community spirit. In the 1920s, Fitzhugh attended a predominantly black high school, Dunbar High School, during a period of racial segregation in the United States.

Graduating from high school at the age of 16, Fitzhugh distinguished himself with a scholarship to Harvard University, where he was one of only four black students in the entering class. He was not allowed to live in the campus dormitories, but Fitzhugh excelled and graduated with honors in 1931 ...

Article

LaVerne Gray

minister, politician, educator, and writer. After serving as a U.S. representative from New York, Flake became the minister and leader of New York City's largest African American church, the Greater Allen African Methodist Episcopal Cathedral in Queens. He elevated the membership to over eighteen thousand and assisted the economic growth of the church through concentrated efforts in community development. In 2002 Flake became president of Wilberforce University, one the oldest historically black colleges, in Ohio. He worked in the private, educational, and government sectors while simultaneously serving in the church.

Floyd Harold Flake was born in Los Angeles, the third of thirteen children born to Robert Flake, a janitor, and Rosie Lee Flake a homemaker When Flake was still small the family relocated to Houston Texas Growing up Flake was resourceful and his parents stressed a strong work ethic He was always working delivering ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

educator and nonprofit executive, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of William Foster and Ruth (Alexander) Foster, who were both missionaries in the Bahá’í faith. He was named after Badí’ (1852–1869), an important early Persian Bahá’í martyr whose Arabic name translates as “wonderfulness” in English. That William Foster was African American while Ruth Foster was white would have made their marriage illegal in most American states, though not Illinois, at the time their son was born. The couple met in the 1930s in Chicago through their common interest in radical, left-wing politics and gravitated toward the pluralistic Bahá’í faith, which teaches the unity of humankind and promotes racial and gender equality.

Badi Foster was raised on Chicago's South Side, where he was a Boy Scout patrol leader, enjoyed singing doo-wop, and earned extra money by selling Jet magazine When he was eleven Foster moved with his ...

Article

Anthony A. Lee

Badi Foster was born in Chicago to an interracial Baha'i family. His father (William) was black, and his mother (Ruth) was white. When Badi (which means “wonderful” in Arabic and is the name of a celebrated Baha'i martyr) was eleven, his parents moved to Morocco as pioneers (missionaries) for the Baha'i religion. He spent his adolescence in that country, learning French and Arabic. He attended the American School in Casablanca to the eighth grade, and then transferred to the American School of Tangiers where he completed his high school education in 1960.

As a consequence of learning new languages and negotiating new cultures Foster discovered that although Morocco had its own structures of inequality and oppression American notions of race were unknown there He explains that as a boy therefore he was vaccinated against racism never internalizing ideas or racial inferiority and gaining important insights even as a teenager ...

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Damon L. Fordham

lawyer, entrepreneur, educator, and journalist, was born near Orangeburg, South Carolina, the son of the former slaves Benjamin Frederick and Henrietta Baxter. A Renaissance man among African Americans in South Carolina, Frederick earned a bachelor of arts degree from Orangeburg's Claflin College in 1889 and degrees in history and Latin from the University of Wisconsin in 1901. Shortly after graduating from the latter institution, Frederick moved to Columbia, South Carolina, where he began an eighteen-year career as the principal of the Howard School, one of the first public schools for blacks in that city. He rose to early prominence as an educator and served as president of the South Carolina State Teacher's Association, an organization of that state's black teachers, from 1906 to 1908. He married Corrine Carroll in 1904; they would have four children.

By 1913 Frederick was searching for ...

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Jean M. Brannon

businessman and civic leader, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Frank Gardner, a U.S. federal employee, and Eva. Residing in his parents' West Chesterfield home on Chicago's far South Side, Gardner attended Gillespie Elementary. In elementary school Gardner exhibited his gifts of salesmanship and initiative when he began delivering the Chicago Defender newspaper door-to-door in his neighborhood. The community contacts he developed as a newspaper boy continued long after he had given up his paper route. He and his older brother Frank were the only two African American students enrolled in Fenger High School. Edward's high school extracurricular interests were intramural sports, primarily basketball, and creative art. His artistic abilities resulted in summer scholarships to the Ray Vogue Art School. Gardner was drafted into the U.S. military after his high school graduation in 1943 Stationed in Japan and the Pacific islands in World War II ...

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Theresa A. Hammond

the first African American female certified public accountant in Virginia, was born Ruth Hortense Coles in Charlottesville, Virginia, to Bernard Albert Coles, a dentist, and the former Ruth Hortense Wyatt, a teacher. As a child she enjoyed playing “office” with her older sister and she excelled in school, graduating as valedictorian of her class at Jefferson High School when she was only fifteen years old. She entered Virginia State College for Negroes and majored in business administration. Despite graduating again as valedictorian Harris received only one job offer, as a bookkeeper for a meatpacking plant in Cleveland. Her accounting professor, George G. Singleton encouraged her to instead attend New York University for graduate school in accounting In the 1940s African Americans could not attend graduate professional schools in the Commonwealth of Virginia but to avoid lawsuits contending that the state did not provide separate but equal graduate ...

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Amanda Harmon Cooley

businessperson, corporate executive, and educator. Dennis Fowler Hightower, the son of Marvin W. Hightower and Anna Virginia Hightower, was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in LeDroit Park, a neighborhood in the District of Columbia in which many other prominent African Americans, from Duke Ellington to the Reverend Jesse Jackson, have lived. As a child Hightower spent time at Camp Atwater in North Brookfield, Massachusetts, which was established in 1921 by William N. DeBerry with the mission to help African American children. After graduating from McKinley High School at age sixteen, Hightower continued his studies at Howard University, earning a bachelor of science degree in 1962.

Then Hightower enlisted in the U S Army beginning an eight year military career that included active service in the Vietnam War His leadership advanced him to the rank of major by the age of twenty seven ...