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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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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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Rita Kohn

designer, businesswoman, and civic leader, was born Alpha Coles in Lynchburg, Virginia, the youngest of eight children of Alphonso Carroll Coles and Minnie Pugh Coles. Growing up, Blackburn attended a segregated school system, and went on to win a scholarship to Howard University, from which she graduated with honors, attaining a bachelor of arts in Design and a master of fine arts in painting and Art History. In 1964 she moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, with her husband, Walter Scott Blackburn, who had completed his degree in architecture at Howard. She commenced work as a freelance designer of clothing and interiors.

Blackburn's petite figure and radiant good looks created opportunities for her to model, and she accepted a steady job at the prestigious L. S. Ayres & Company in downtown Indianapolis. Concurrently, she hosted a half‐hour daily talk show from 1972 to 1978, Indy Today on WISH ...

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Donna L. Halper

was born in Dallas, Texas, one of eleven children of Walter and Sarah (Cox). Otis graduated from Booker T. Washington High School, where he was valedictorian of his class, in 1938. He then attended Fisk University in Nashville. While some sources say he graduated, records from Fisk show he attended for two years, focusing on chemistry and physics, and then left in 1941. He moved to Chicago, where he first worked as a clerk at the Electro Manufacturing Company and then as a laboratory assistant for the Majestic Radio and Television Corporation, where he rose to the position of factory foreman. His next move was working as an engineer for P. J. Nilsen Research Laboratories. At some point in the 1940s Boykin married Pearlie Mae Kimble, but little information about his personal life has emerged. He also attended two semesters at Illinois Institute of Technology, around 1946–1947 ...

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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 ...

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Geraldine Rhoades Beckford

physician, businessman, and writer, was born in Madison County, Kentucky, the youngest of fifteen children of Eliza and Edwin, who were slaves. Burton and his mother remained on the plantation after Emancipation as paid laborers, and he continued working at the “old homestead” after her death in 1869 until he was sixteen, at which time he left following an altercation with the owner.

In 1880 Burton was “converted to God” and subsequently experienced an insatiable desire for learning. Despite discouraging comments from those who thought that twenty was too old to start school, Burton was not dissuaded and determined that nothing was going to prevent him from getting an education except sickness or death. Burton worked for one more year as a farmhand in Richmond, Kentucky. One January morning in 1881 he put a few items in a carpetbag and nine dollars and seventy five cents in his ...

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Rochell Isaac

pastor, educator, and entrepreneur, was born a slave in Christian Country, Kentucky. Clark never knew his biological father. While Clark was still a baby, his father escaped from slavery. His mother, Mary Clark, subsequently married Jerry Clark, who would join the Union army in 1860. Charles Henry Clark remained a slave for a total of nine years, and it was at the age of seven that the overseer's wife took him as her servant. She taught Clark to spell and initiated his path to literacy, but the outbreak of the Civil War would separate Clark from his teacher. During this period, Clark's mother moved from Kentucky to New Providence, Tennessee, to await her husband, Jerry Clark, who was returning from the army. Mary Clark had difficulty financially supporting her family, since her only income at this time came from her eldest son, George W. Clark As ...

Article

Camille Hazeur

mathematician, computer programmer, and consultant, was born Laura Cheatham on the west side of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the youngest of three daughters of Gertrude Richey and James Hammond Cheatham. Gertrude was born in Williamston, South Carolina, in 1888 to Mary Roberts and Mak Richey, who sent her to the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary (now Spelman College) in Atlanta, Georgia, from grade school through normal school. After receiving her teaching certificate, Gertrude took a job in Anderson, South Carolina, where she married James Hammond Cheatham, son of a wealthy white plantation owner, James Hammond Freeman, and a Cherokee woman named Emma Lenier. Previously married to a man of mixed race named Cheatham, Lenier had a long-established liaison with James Hammond Freeman, with whom she had five children. James Hammond Cheatham unable to take his biological father s name because of concubinage laws was apparently taught ...

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Rayvon David Fouché

inventor, was born to Shelby Jeames and Amelia Scott Davidson in Lexington, Kentucky. He attended public school in his hometown of Lexington and then attended college in Louisville to study education. This school's program did not challenge Davidson or adequately prepare him for a career. So in the fall of 1887 he enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C. However, his previous academic training was not sufficient to gain admission to Howard University's college department. He spent his first two years completing the preparatory program and finally received a degree in 1896. That same year he began to study law, and by June 1896 he had completed standard readings in the law curriculum under the direction of William A. Cook.

In 1893 while Davidson completed his education he found employment as an unclassified laborer for the Treasury Department making $600 per year He secured this position through ...

Article

Edward C. Halperin

physician, was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, the son of Smith Donnell, a real estate developer, and Lula Ingold. Donnell was raised in Greensboro, where he attended the public schools for African Americans and the high school operated by North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University. He received an AB in 1911 from Howard University and an MD in 1915 from Harvard University. While at Harvard he studied under Milton J. Rosenau, the world-renowned scientist in preventive medicine and founder of the world's first school of public health, at Harvard in 1909. Since few hospitals would accept African Americans as interns at the time of Donnell's medical school graduation, he rotated as a fellow and observer at Boston City Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Children's Hospital from 1915 to 1916. Donnell's subsequent career was devoted to African American health education, insurance, and banking.

African ...

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Stephanie Y. Evans

advertising executive, magazine publisher, and radio network founder, was born in Louisville Kentucky, to W. Leonard Evans Sr., an executive with the Urban League, and Beatrice, an executive with an insurance company. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to suburban Chicago, where he was raised. Evans attended the Chicago public schools, after which he graduated from Wilberforce Academy in Ohio in 1931. It was a family tradition to go to college at Fisk in Nashville, which he did for several years, studying sociology and learning to do research. He then transferred to the University of Illinois, where he received a degree in business in 1935. He also studied law at Chicago's Kent College of Law.

In 1943 Evans married Maudelle and the couple would go on to have two sons Evans became interested in researching the black consumer and after working for such ...

Article

Tom J. Ward

physician and businessman, was born in New Roads, Louisiana, the second of the seven children of George Frederick and Armantine (maiden name unknown) of Point Coupeé Parish, Louisiana. Frederick received his early education at the plantation school run by the wife of Louis F. Drouillard, the landlord for whom his parents were sharecroppers. In 1890 Frederick left Point Coupeé for New Orleans, where he enrolled at Straight University. He graduated in 1894, then enrolled at the New Orleans Medical College. Because he would not have been able to study in any of the city's hospitals because of his race, Frederick did not complete his medical education in New Orleans; instead, he left for Chicago in 1896 and enrolled at the College of Physicians and Surgeons In Chicago he had the benefit of clinical training at Cook County Hospital Frederick received his MD from the College of ...

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John Hanson Mitchell

photographer and naturalist, was born in Natural Bridge, Virginia. His parents' names and occupations are unknown. In 1881, after attending primary schools in Lexington, Virginia, Gilbert was taken by his family to Lynchburg, Virginia, to complete his education. In 1886 he followed his brother William north to Boston, where he found employment as a porter on the Portland Boston steamship line. He would work various odd jobs until 1896, when psychologist James Chadbourne hired him to help with laboratory rats. Gilbert, as he was generally known in the Boston white community, also took a temporary job setting up a bird museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with the renowned nineteenth-century ornithologist William Brewster. Brewster subsequently hired Gilbert as a full-time manservant, field assistant, factotum, and, as some of the early private journal records state, “friend,” to the well-respected Brewster.

Under Brewster s tutelage Gilbert learned how to develop ...

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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 ...

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Jeffrey R. Yost

physicist and engineer, was born in Newark, New Jersey. He was one of four children. His father worked at various maintenance and painting jobs and his mother was a teletype operator. After classes at Brooklyn Technical High School, Gourdine often worked long hours with his father on cleaning and painting jobs. This experience led him to focus on his studies as well as athletics in hopes of an easier life.

His talent in swimming earned him a scholarship offer from the University of Michigan but he instead chose to attend Cornell University He paid his own tuition early in his college career working for a radio and telegraph firm prior to receiving a scholarship for track and field Gourdine competed in sprints low hurdles and the long jump The six foot tall 175 pound Gourdine earned the nickname Flash as a result of both his speed and his favorite ...

Article

Jeffrey R. Yost

chemist, was born in Elgin, Illinois, to Augustus Hall, a Baptist minister, and Isabel Hall. In the 1830s his paternal grandfather had been a founding member and later pastor of the first African American church in Chicago, Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME). Hall developed an interest in chemistry while attending East High School in Aurora, Illinois, where he was a debater and athlete, competing in football, baseball, and track.

After receiving a number of scholarship offers, Hall chose to attend Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He graduated with a BS in Chemistry in 1916 He continued his studies in chemistry taking graduate courses at the University of Chicago During World War I he served in ordnance as a lieutenant working on explosives in a Wisconsin weapons factory He suffered from racial harassment at this factory and requested and was granted a transfer after which things improved ...

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Glenn Allen Knoblock

Civil War soldier and Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Austin, Texas, the son of slaves Jack and Emily Holland. Milton had three known brothers, Toby, William, and James, all part of “the third generation of African-Americans born as slaves” on the Holland Family Plantation run by Bird Holland later the Texas secretary of state Arlington National Cemetery Perhaps because of his light complexion and the fact that he was later freed and sent to school in the North Bird Holland may have been the real father of Milton as well as his brothers William and James a fact speculated upon by some historians Bird Holland would later free Milton William and James and send them north to Ohio in the late 1850s Here Milton Holland attended the Albany Manual Labor Academy an educational institution that accepted blacks and women This school was ...

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Blake Wintory

physician, drug store owner, and investor, was born Napoleon Bonaparte Houser near Gastonia, in Gaston County, North Carolina, the son of William H. Houser, a brick mason and contractor, and Fannie Houser, a housekeeper. The elder Houser's $600 in real estate and $200 in personal property, according to the 1870 U.S. census, made him one of the wealthiest black businessmen in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area. The young Houser attended Charlotte public schools and worked as a farmhand on his father's farm from the age of nine until fourteen. At fourteen he began to work at his father's brick factory, and at age sixteen became his father's personal secretary.

In 1881 Houser entered the Presbyterian-affiliated Biddle University in Charlotte, and in 1887 attended the Leonard Medical School at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. After finishing medical school in 1891 he received his medical ...

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David T. Beito

physician, civil rights leader, and entrepreneur, was born Theodore Roosevelt Howard in the town of Murray, Calloway County, Kentucky, to Arthur Howard, a tobacco twister, and Mary Chandler, a cook for Will Mason, a prominent local white doctor and member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA). Mason took note of the boy's work habits, talent, ambition, and charm. He put him to work in his hospital and eventually paid for much of his medical education. Howard later showed his gratitude by adding “Mason” as a second middle name.

Theodore Howard attended three SDA colleges: the all-black Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama; the predominantly white Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska; and the College of Medical Evangelists in Loma Linda, California. While at Union College he won the American Anti-Saloon League's national contest for best orator in 1930.

During his years in medical school in ...

Article

James Bethea

inventor and educator, was born in Macon, Missouri, to Philip Alexander Hubbard, a draftsman, and Rosa Belle (Wallace) Hubbard, a teacher who later worked as an elevator operator and freelance dressmaker. Hubbard's parents selected his middle name in recognition of Warren Gamaliel Harding's inauguration as U S president on the day he was born Hubbard s father died eighteen days after he was born and his mother was left to care for him and his three brothers The family was close knit and Hubbard and his siblings were cared for by relatives while his mother taught school When he was four years old his mother sacrificed her teaching career and moved the family to Des Moines Iowa in hopes of better educational opportunities for her sons An avid reader from an early age Hubbard thrived at Nash Elementary School where he won a spelling bee competition ...