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Peter Wallenstein

educator and civil rights litigant, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of William Henry “Sonnie” Alston, a drayman, and Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Smith, a laundress. The Alstons owned their home, and Melvin grew up in a middle-class environment. After attending Norfolk's segregated black public schools and graduating from Booker T. Washington High School, he graduated in 1935 from Virginia State College, where he was honored for his debating and for excellence in scholarship. Following graduation he began teaching math at Booker T. Washington High School. Beginning in 1937 he served as president of the Norfolk Teachers Association, and he also held local leadership positions in the Young Men's Christian Association and the First Calvary Baptist Church.

Alston played a key role in an effort by black teachers in the Norfolk city public schools to challenge racial discrimination in their salaries. In 1937 the Virginia Teachers Association VTA and ...

Article

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

Josepha Sherman

aviator, was born in Oklahoma, the younger of the two children and only son of Riley and Cora Banning, of whom little else is known. In 1919 the family settled in Ames, Iowa, where Banning attended Iowa State College to study electrical engineering but soon became fascinated with the idea of flying and of gaining his pilot's license. After a year of college, Banning left and learned to fly in Des Moines, Iowa, where he was taught by an army aviator at Raymond Fisher's Flying Field. Banning did so well that he became one of the first black pilots to gain a pilot's license, CAA # 1324, issued by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

To earn a living—and to support his interest in flying—Banning formed and operated the J. H. Banning Auto Repair Shop in Ames from 1922 to 1928. In 1929 Banning was named the ...

Article

Richard M. Mizelle and Keith Wailoo

mathematician and professor, was born David Harold Blackwell in Centralia, Illinois, the oldest of four children, to Grover Blackwell, a locomotive mechanic for the Illinois Central Railroad, and Mabel Johnson. Although much of Blackwell's hometown was segregated, he attended an integrated elementary school. He first became interested in mathematics in high school where, although not particularly interested in algebra or trigonometry, he immediately took an interest in geometry—the scientific study of the properties and relations of lines, surfaces, and solids in space. Later in his life Blackwell credited his high school geometry instructor for showing him the beauty and the usefulness of mathematics. He joined his high school's mathematics club where his instructor pushed students to submit solutions to the School Science and Mathematics Journal which published one of Blackwell s solutions It was with geometry that Blackwell first began to apply mathematical methods and formulas to ...

Article

Anne K. Driscoll

pilot, Tuskegee Airman, civil servant, teacher, and juvenile probation officer, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the youngest child of Georgia Crane and Earl Bohannon, occupations unknown. Bohannon was the youngest of ten children, although only his oldest sister and a brother were alive when Bohannon was born. One of his greatest influences growing up was his mother, who taught him the importance of principles, hard work, and honesty.

Bohannon began working at eight years of age in a hardware store His next job was working on a laundry truck It was the laundry job that ultimately led Bohannon to his dream of becoming an aviator Bohannon stopped twice a week at Atlanta s Candler Field later William B Hartsfield Airport While picking up the aviators laundry he listened to the pilots discussing their flights the difficulties of flying in adverse weather conditions and other matters that inspired him to ...

Article

Margaret E. M. Tolbert

organic chemist and educator, was born in the Bronx, New York, the only child of Ada May Fox, a homemaker, and Freddie Brown, a maintenance worker who later became a postal worker. Brown's education was obtained in various schools of New York, and she received her high school diploma from New Dorp High School, Staten Island, NewYork; in 1952. Upon completing high school, she continued her educational pursuits by enrolling at Hunter College of the City University of New York, which was free to eligible high school graduates. In 1956 she graduated with a BA in Chemistry and two years later earned her MS at the University of Minnesota, where she was the first African American woman to receive any degree in chemistry. In her two years at the university, she conducted research titled “A Study of Dye and Ylide Formation in Salts of 9-(p ...

Article

author, chemist, physician, scientist, and civil rights activist, was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, to James Calloway and Marietta Oglesby. Nathaniel attended elementary and secondary school in Tuskegee, and in 1926 he received a fellowship to enroll at Iowa State University. While there he earned his BS in Chemistry in 1930 and obtained his PhD in Organic Chemistry in 1933. Calloway's dissertation was titled, “Condensation Reactions of Furfural and Its Derivatives.” Upon graduation he returned to Tuskegee, where he led the department of chemistry at Tuskegee Institute from 1933 to 1935. Then he taught in Fisk University's chemistry department until 1940. In 1933 Calloway married, and he and his wife eventually had four children.

In 1940 Calloway moved to Chicago and began the daunting task of being an instructor of pharmacology and a medical student at the same time Upon learning that he would not be ...

Article

aviator, was born in Newport, Arkansas, a farming community on the banks of the White River. Although the names of his parents are now unknown, Coffey recalled in 1993 that “my daddy was a railroad man in the days when an Afro-American could hook a train together and drive a locomotive from the roundhouse to the station, but he could never become a full-fledged engineer” (Chicago Tribune, 25 July 1993). Cornelius Coffey, however, would spend a large portion of his life suspended in the air operating the controls of an airplane. This was a time when even to dream of being a pilot was considered preposterous for a black youth growing up in segregated Arkansas. In order to escape such limitations imposed on blacks in the Jim Crow South, the family sought new opportunities first in Nebraska, and then ultimately in Chicago in 1923.

Shortly after ...

Article

Sandra D. Harvey

physician who pioneered the preservation of plasma, the development of the dry plasma technique, and the use of plasma in blood transfusions.

Born in Washington, D.C., to Richard Thomas Drew, a carpet-layer, and Nora Rosella Burrell Drew, a Howard University graduate, Drew grew up in a middle-class community. Known as the “center of black aristocracy,” Washington offered Drew and his family many social and educational opportunities. Drew attended the best segregated college preparatory school in the nation, Dunbar High School. In 1922 he entered Amherst College on an academic scholarship, and in 1926 he graduated a celebrated athlete and scholar.

Lack of funds delayed Drew's entry into medical school. In the interim, he coached and taught biology at Morgan College in Baltimore. In 1928 he enrolled in McGill University's medical school in Montreal; he graduated in 1933 At McGill he began his research in blood chemistry but Joseph his ...

Article

Peter Fraser

Eugenicist and statistician. A cousin of Charles Darwin, Galton's interests in statistics (he founded the science of biostatistics) and genetics led him to the idea that selective breeding to improve the human race would lead to the development of ‘a galaxy of genius’. He first set out these thoughts in an article published in 1865 but at the same time demonstrated that his views on the differences between ‘races’ was conventional: to him Africans were lazy, stupid, and cruel. The basic theory that underlay his political eugenics programme was that, heredity being more important than environment, selective breeding was the only way to improve humanity.

His lasting legacies were his use of statistics and his research into heredity but he is best known for his eugenics programme Though his own interpretation of eugenics tended to be fairly benign focusing on research into hereditary disease or supporting the intelligent ...

Article

Flint Whitlock

the first African American commercial passenger airline pilot, was born in El Dorado, Arkansas, the son of McKinley Green, a domestic servant for a wealthy El Dorado dentist and oilman, and Lucy Longmyre. In 1944, due to the influence of a charismatic priest, the five Green siblings, with the exception of one brother, converted from Baptism to Roman Catholicism. Green later earned a scholarship to complete his senior year of high school at the Xavier Preparatory School, affiliated with Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana.

At Xavier Prep Green did well academically graduating at the top of his class His goal was to attend Epiphany Apostolic College a Josephite seminary in Newburgh on the Hudson New York and study for the priesthood However during his first semester he was wrongly diagnosed with a medical condition and was dismissed from the school Seeking a new direction for his ...

Article

Olivia A. Scriven

feminist scholar, historian, physicist, engineer, and advocate for minorities and women in science, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the oldest of two girls of William Emmett Hammonds, a postal worker, and Evelyn Marie Hammonds, a reading specialist and elementary school teacher. At age nine, Hammonds's father gave his daughter a chemistry set. For Hammonds, the chemistry set, along with later gifts of a microscope, and building sets, sparked an interest in science that would be encouraged by both parents. The events also set her on a path that would force her to think more critically about her own identity and the struggles and contributions of blacks and women in science.

Growing up in Atlanta, Hammonds attended all-black public elementary schools. This would change in 1967 when as a fourteen year old ninth grade student she was bused to a predominately white school ...

Article

Robert G. McGuire

Born a slave in Georgia on August 14, 1858, Andrew Franklin Hilyer was taken to Nebraska as a child by his mother. At her death he moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he was befriended by the wealthy Gale and Pillsbury families. In 1882 he graduated from the University of Minnesota. He then moved to Washington, D.C., where he received his LL.B. (bachelor of laws) in 1884 and his LL.M. (master of laws) in 1885 from Howard University. In 1886 he married Mamie Elizabeth Nichols a descendant of free blacks who had lived in the Washington area for several generations The Hilyers had two sons Gale P and Franklin and one daughter Kathleen Hilyer served as a Class II clerk in the Treasury Department and later as a member of the Interior Department Division of the General Accounting Office Seven years after the death of his first wife ...

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 ...

Article

Pamela C. Edwards

entrepreneur, inventor, and activist, was born in Monterey, Virginia, to George Emmanuel Stewart, a teacher, and Annie Dougherty Stewart, a housewife. The couple had thirteen children, but only four daughters lived beyond infancy. After relocating their family to Dayton, Ohio, Stewart's parents divorced and, in 1912, she moved to Chicago to live with her mother. In Chicago, Stewart attended Edgewood High School, worked temporary jobs, and, on 4 April 1916, she married Dr. Robert Joyner, a podiatrist from Memphis, Tennessee. The couple had two daughters: Anne Joyner Fook and Barbara Joyner Powell, who both became educators. At some point during her early Chicago years, Stewart made the decision to become a beautician and that decision would shape her future.

Joyner became the first black graduate of the A.B. Molar Beauty School in 1916 and she opened her own beauty shop ...

Article

Olivia A. Scriven

mathematician, educator, and activist, was born Vivienne Lucille Malone in Waco, Texas. Her parents, Pizarro Ray Malone and Vera Estelle (Allen) Malone, both worked as public school teachers and stressed the importance of education as a pathway to advancement and opportunity.

After graduating from the racially segregated A.J. Moore High School in 1948 at the age of sixteen, young Vivienne attended Fisk University, a historically black institution in Nashville, Tennessee. She wanted to become a doctor and might have achieved that goal had she not met and married James Jeffries Mayes, a dental student. Her husband-to-be convinced her that the professional demands of two doctors in the family would be a strain on them personally. So she switched her major from pre-med to mathematics. The decision proved fortuitous. During her junior year in 1950 the university hired two mathematicians who would serve as mentors ...

Article

Robert "Bob" Davis

one of the four North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University freshmen who initiated the sit-in movement in Greensboro, North Carolina, was born Franklin Eugene McCain in Union County, North Carolina, the son of Warner and Mattie McCain. McCain grew up in Washington, D.C., and graduated from Eastern High School in 1959. After graduating, he returned to his native North Carolina to attend college at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (A&T). During his time as an undergraduate student at A&T, McCain roomed with David Richmond and lived around the corner from Ezell Blair Jr. and Joseph McNeil on the second floor of Scott Hall. These four men challenged public accommodation customs and laws in North Carolina on 1 February 1960 launching a sit in movement that became an important catalyst for much of the modern civil rights movement They decided to sit at an all ...

Article

Jeannette Elizabeth Brown

chemical engineer, activist, and the first African American woman to receive a PhD in Chemical Engineering, was born in Gadsden, Alabama, the fourth of five children of James and Elizabeth Patrick. Her parents had little formal education beyond the sixth grade; her father worked as a janitor and her mother was a maid. They wanted their children to be educated and successful. They talked repeatedly about using the mind as a way out of poverty. As a child, Jennie loved to read and enjoyed encyclopedias because they stretched her imagination and opened her world. During her early childhood years, she attended the segregated elementary and junior high schools in her home town. When she was of high school age in 1964, she was able to attend an integrated high school because the full effect of the Brown v. Board of Education decision had been implemented ...

Article

Andrea Patterson

proctologist and author, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the grandson of a former slave from North Carolina, and the son of Thomas Henry Peyton, one of the first black policemen in New York City, and Louisa Jones, of African American and Mohawk Indian ancestry. Peyton attended a manual training high school in Brooklyn and continued his studies at the Long Island College of Medicine from where he graduated as the only black student of his class in 1921. In 1923 he married Gladys (maiden name unknown) and the couple had three children, Roy (b. 1925), Carter (b. 1928), and Joyce (b. 1935 Peyton lived during a time when black doctors experienced severe professional discrimination in training and practice Yet like Peyton their commitment to medicine and civil rights bound them together in a ceaseless effort to advance scientific knowledge provide better educational ...

Article

Millery Polyné

World War II pilot, entrepreneur, and airline executive, was born in Westfield, New Jersey, the son of a Jamaican dental technician. His parents' names are unknown. A driven and determined student at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where he graduated with a bachelor of arts in 1935, Plinton was a solid student-athlete who participated on the varsity soccer, wrestling, tennis, and track teams. He was also a member of the dramatic society and the glee club and was president of the German society. An accomplished musician, he played the piano and organ well and one summer played the organ at Tuskegee Institute. With the encouragement and unbending rearing of his father, it was evident that the black college experience was critical to his development as a future leader and visionary who would defy the odds against systematic racial injustice. In a 1973 interview Plinton revealed Going ...