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Abron, Lilia Ann  

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 ...

Article

Beard, Andrew Jackson  

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 ...

Article

Boykin, Otis Frank  

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 ...

Article

Cousins, Laura Cheatham  

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 ...

Article

Davidson, Shelby J.  

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

Flipper, Henry Ossian  

John C. Fredriksen

Henry Ossian Flipper 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 Smithpreceded 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 June 14, 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).

Flipper enjoyed ...

Article

Flipper, Henry Ossian  

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

Gilbert, Robert Alexander  

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 ...

Article

Goode, Sarah E.  

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

Gourdine, Meredith C.  

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

Hall, Lloyd Augustus  

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 ...

Article

Hill, Henry Aaron  

Henry A. Hill was born in St. Joseph, North Carolina. He completed a B.A. at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1936 and a Ph.D. in chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1942. In 1961 he became president and founder of the ...

Article

Hill, Henry Aaron  

Kenneth R. Manning

chemist and businessman, was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, the son of William Anthony Hill II, the headwaiter at a local hotel, and Kate Anna Evans. Hill attended public elementary and secondary schools in St. Joseph and graduated from Bartlett High School in 1931. After completing his first year of college at Lewis Institute in Chicago (later a part of the Illinois Institute of Technology), he attended Johnson C. Smith University, an all-black institution in Charlotte, North Carolina. He graduated in 1936 with a BS cum laude in Mathematics and Chemistry.

Hill spent the 1937–1938 academic year as a special student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The following year he studied at the University of Chicago, where he was one of two African American graduate students in the chemistry department. While the other black student, Warren Henry went on to earn a PhD at ...

Article

Hilyer, Andrew F(ranklin)  

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

Hubbard, Philip Gamaliel  

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

Johnson, Lonnie G.  

Patricia Carter Sluby

inventor, entrepreneur, businessman, and nuclear engineer, was born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, the third of six children of David Johnson a driver for the Air Force and Arline Washington Johnson a nurse s assistant Johnson attended W H Council Elementary School and Williamson High School in his segregated hometown Guided by tolerant and patient parents who encouraged him during his early creative years when he fiddled with junk Johnson was painfully aware of racial inequities but that did not deter his curiosity about how things worked His mother ingrained in him and his siblings the importance of knowledge emphasizing what one puts in the brain counts in life Likened to a child prodigy nosy young Johnson habitually tinkered with his siblings toys to see how they functioned In project after project he monkeyed with old jukeboxes plastic pipes compression motors and explosive rocket fuel ...

Article

Joyner, Marjorie Stewart  

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

Kabasele Muamba, Paul Clément  

Jeremy Rich

inventor and businessman, was born on 1 April 1933 in the village of Tshibambula in thie Lulua district of the Kasai Province, located in the Democratic Republic of Congo not far from the city of Kananga. Little is available regarding his family or his childhood. After Kabasele completed his primary education at Demba, he enrolled at the famous Institut Saint Boniface secondary school in Lubumbashi, the capital of Katanga Province. Even before Muamba graduated in 1957, he became an assistant colonial official in the railroad town of Muene Ditu in Kasai Province. He also worked as a bank clerk for the Banque Belge d’Afrique and the Banque du Congo Belge and earned a degree in legal studies in 1959 His career resembled that of many future Congolese politicians in the 1950s but Kabasele did not become a prominent figure in the fierce political struggles in the Congo ...

Article

King, Reatha Clark  

Jeannette Elizabeth Brown

chemist and corporate leader, was born in Pavo, Georgia, the second of three daughters of Willie Clark and Ola Watts Campbell. Her mother Ola had a third-grade education, and her father Willie was illiterate. Reatha was raised in Moltrie, Georgia, by her mother and aunt after her parents separated when she was young. She had to pick cotton and do the heavy fieldwork that was the typical life in the 1940s for poor sharecroppers' children. African American girls in the rural segregated South had few role models, but she received strong encouragement from her family and community to use her academic ability to overcome social disadvantages.

Clark started school at the age of four in the one room schoolhouse at Mount Zion Baptist Church Clark attended the segregated Moultrie High School for Negro Youth A teacher there encouraged her love of math and science even though the school ...

Article

Lanson, William  

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 ...