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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 ...


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 ...


Steven J. Niven

blacksmith and politician, was born a slave in Hardin County, Tennessee. It is unknown whether he was still living there in April 1862, during the battle of Shiloh, one of the bloodiest of the Civil War. By 15 September 1863 he was living in Little Rock, Arkansas, more than 250 miles west of his birthplace. On that day, five days after Little Rock fell to the Union army, Gillam enlisted in Company I, Second Regiment, Arkansas Infantry, which was later renamed Company I, Fifty-fourth Regiment, U.S. Colored Infantry. Since he immediately assumed the rank of sergeant, he probably knew how to read and write (noncommissioned officers in the Union army were expected to be able to read orders and file reports). After serving for three years, primarily in Arkansas and Kansas, he left the army in 1866, having reached the rank of first sergeant.

Gillam settled in ...


Kenneth R. Manning

inventor, was born in Paramaribo, Surinam (Dutch Guiana), the son of Carl Matzeliger, a Dutch engineer in charge of government machine works for the colony, and a native Surinamese mother. At the age of ten, Matzeliger began serving an apprenticeship in the machine works. In 1871 he signed on to the crew of an East Indian merchant ship and set out to seek his fortune overseas. After a two-year voyage, he landed at Philadelphia, where he probably worked as a cobbler. In 1877 he settled in the town of Lynn Massachusetts the largest shoe manufacturing center in the United States His first job there was with the M H Harney Company where he operated a McKay sole stitching machine He also gained experience in heel burnishing buttonholing machine repair and other aspects of shoe manufacture Later he was employed in the shoe factory of Beal Brothers ...


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 ...


Michael Phillips

With medical care in the antebellum South prohibitively expensive, and with slaveowners suspecting that every illness reported by a slave represented a ruse for avoiding work, the southern master class largely ignored their slaves’ health problems. As a result, African American slaves in North America usually turned to healers, herbalists, and magicians within their communities to cure sickness.

These slave doctors derived their practices almost exclusively from West and Central African traditions Such healers resorted to trances or divination to determine the cause of patients diseases While Western medicine through the mid nineteenth century consisted of dangerous if not fatal cures such as induced vomiting and bleeding by contrast African American healers relied extensively on roots leaves bark and the reproductive structures of plants for soothing natural medicines Some slave healers gained a reputation even among the white community such as a South Carolina slave named Cesar who was manumitted ...


Richard S. Newman and Paul Finkelman

Although they were often denied formal recognition for their innovations, black inventors created a notable body of achievement during the colonial and early national periods. Indeed, in a climate where African American intellect itself was consistently (and sometimes violently) denigrated, black inventors worked not only to create new products and ways of doing things but also to undercut negative stereotypes about black ability. In fact, African Americans have a long history of seeking patents for their intellectual property and inventions. Historians have only recently begun a new appraisal of the number and significance of inventions and patents sought by African-descended people in early America.

In January 1794Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, two free black leaders in Philadelphia, received the first patent for a published work by an African American in the United States. The pamphlet, A Narrative of the Proceedings of the Black People during the Late Awful ...


Jacqueline-Bethel Mougoué

inventor, newspaper publisher, and editor, was born the second son and fifth child to Robert and Frances Pelham near Petersburg, Virginia. In the year of his birth his family moved to Detroit, Michigan, seeking better educational and economic opportunities. Pelham attended the public schools of Detroit and managed to finish a twelve-year educational course in nine years.

In 1871, while still in high school, Pelham sharpened his journalistic skills while working at the Daily Post, a leading Republican newspaper of the time. At the Daily Post Pelham worked under Zachariah Chandler, who not only was the owner of the Daily Post but also was a prominent Republican who went on to become mayor of Detroit and a U.S. senator. This close working relationship probably explains Pelham's later involvement with the Republican Party.

Pelham wrote for the Detroit Daily from 1883 to 1891 While ...


Paul Finkelman and Matthew Wilhelm Kapell

The first African slaves in the New World were brought to the Caribbean in 1502. By the time of English settlement, in 1607 African slaves were found throughout Central and South America and in the Caribbean In the earliest descriptions of European travelers Africans were seen as biologically different in fundamental ways For the most part these differences were the result of cultural factors but Europeans almost always understood the dissimilarities as being rooted in nature The Africans encountered by the Spanish Portuguese Dutch and English were almost all from West Africa a location dominated by groups that had cultural mores quite different from those of European sailors European explorers equated variation from their familiar cultural norms with biological inferiority which they then also linked to differences in physical type The skin pigmentation of the African populations encountered by European travelers was from the very beginning considered black ...


For information on

Fields in science and technology: See Chemistry; Development of Technology, African Americans and the; Inventors, African American.

Physicists: See Bouchet; Jackson; McNair.

Chemists: See Calloway; Carver; Hill; Julian.

Engineers: See Jones; Latimer; McCoy; Rillieux ...


William K. Beatty

surgeon and hospital administrator, was born in Hollidaysburg, south central Pennsylvania, the son of Daniel Williams Jr. and Sarah Price. His parents were black, but Daniel himself, in adult life, could easily be mistaken for being white, with his light complexion, red hair, and blue eyes.

Williams's father did well in real estate but died when Daniel was eleven, and the family's financial situation became difficult. When Williams was seventeen, he and a sister, Sally, moved to Janesville, Wisconsin. Here Williams found work at Harry Anderson's Tonsorial Parlor and Bathing Rooms. Anderson took the two of them into his home as family and continued to aid Williams financially until Williams obtained his MD.

Medicine had not been Williams's first choice of a career; he had worked in a law office after high school but had found it too quarrelsome. In 1878 Janesville's most prominent physician, Henry Palmer ...