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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 ...

Article

Erin Royston Battat

the first African American to publish an autobiography about conversion to Catholicism, was born in Santa Barbara, California, the only child of Lula Josephine Holden Adams, a painter, and Daniel Henderson Adams, a hotel headwaiter. Daniel and Lula Adams provided a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle for their daughter and raised her according to strict rules of courtesy, manners, and obedience. Shortly after Adams's birth the family moved to Los Angeles, where she attended an integrated primary school.

Adams and her parents fell victim to the influenza epidemic of 1918–1919. Mother and daughter returned to temperate Santa Barbara in 1920 at their doctor's recommendation and would suffer from chronic illness for the rest of their lives. Adams's father continued to work in Los Angeles for another four years and then died suddenly in 1924 shortly before he was to join the family in Santa Barbara During this period ...

Article

Jeffrey Green

Manager of a hostel for Africans in London in the 1920s and wife of Dr John Alcindor. Born in London of a French father, raised by her mother's family, she trained as a journalist. She was disowned by her family after her marriage in 1911 to John Alcindor, a Trinidadian.

While raising their three children, John (1912), Cyril (1914), and Roland (Bob, 1917), Alcindor also assisted her husband in his west London medical practice, often dealing with patients herself when the Harrow Road surgery was closed.

Along with her husband, Alcindor was active in the Pan‐Africanist movement (see Pan‐Africanism), and during the early 1920s was one of only two white women to serve on the committee of the London‐based African Progress Union, over which her husband presided from 1921.

Her husband's death in 1924 left the ...

Article

pianist, educator, and philanthropist, was born a slave in Trenton, Kentucky, to Mary Dickinson, also a slave, and Mr. Leavell, likely a scion of the white Benjamin Leavell family, pioneers of Trenton. According to family history, Josephine's father wanted to send her and her sister to Canada on the Underground Railroad, but their mother objected because of the danger and distance. Sometime between 1868 and 1875 Josephine attended the Nashville Normal and Theological Institute (also known as the Baptist Institute), a college for African Americans that was later renamed Roger Williams University. Daniel W. Phillips, a white Baptist minister, had started the school in 1864, teaching Bible classes to freed people in his home. The school was later acquired by Vanderbilt University and incorporated into its George Peabody campus, a teachers' college.

While at the Baptist Institute Josephine studied music particularly piano and ...

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M. Cookie E. Newsom

dentist, was born a slave in the Panthersville District of Dekalb County, Georgia. His mother (name unknown) was a slave, and his father, J. D. Badger was a white dentist and also his master Roderick had several brothers including Robert and Ralph all of whom had the same white father but different mothers In many ways his life story can be seen as an example of the complex relationships between the races in the antebellum and postbellum South where the black and white societies were supposed to be separate but where mixed race children were common growing ever more numerous in the decade leading up to the Civil War As the son of his owner Badger enjoyed the privileges associated with that status including his eventual freedom and prosperity However his status as a mulatto and as a professional man did not protect him from many of the ...

Article

Mohammed Hassen Ali

pharmacist, lawyer, and Oromo nationalist and political activist in Ethiopia, was mainly responsible for the formation of the Oromo Liberation Front, which in turn transformed Oromo cultural nationalism to political nationalism. He was born in the region of Wallaga. He lost both his parents while very young, and it was his elder brother, the Reverend Gudina Tumsa, who brought him up and provided him with the best education.

While at Haile Selassie I University, Baro Tumsa immersed himself in student politics as well as risky underground Oromo political activities. From 1964 to 1966 he served as secretary and president of the union of the university students in Addis Ababa It was under his leadership that university students were radicalized and energized More than many of his contemporaries Baro Tumsa realized that the Oromo and other conquered people of southern Ethiopia were landless subjects without rights who were exploited economically ...

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Chandra M. Miller

dentist and politician, was born into slavery in North Carolina and was known as Samuel Nixon before his escape from bondage in 1855. Nothing is known about his parents. He was sold several times before being purchased by C. F. Martin, a dentist in Norfolk, Virginia. As Martin's slave, Nixon learned sufficient dentistry to serve as the doctor's assistant and to make dental house calls. He also developed bookkeeping skills and monitored the doctor's accounts.

In Norfolk, Nixon became involved with the Underground Railroad. Befriending the captains of many of the schooners sailing in and out of Norfolk, he often convinced them to hide fugitive slaves aboard ship and carry them north, usually to Philadelphia or to New Bedford, Massachusetts. After conducting many other slaves through the Underground Railroad, Nixon decided to become a passenger himself in March 1855 He and three other slaves disguised themselves and ...

Article

Chandra M. Miller

Bayne, Thomas (1824–1889), dentist and politician, was born into slavery in North Carolina and was known as Samuel Nixon before his escape from bondage in 1855. He was sold several times before being purchased by C. F. Martin, a dentist in Norfolk, Virginia. As the slave of Martin, Bayne learned sufficient dentistry to serve as the doctor’s assistant and to make dental house calls. Bayne also developed bookkeeping skills and monitored the doctor’s accounts.

In Norfolk Bayne became involved with the Underground Railroad Befriending the captains of many of the schooners sailing in and out of Norfolk he often convinced them to hide fugitive slaves aboard ship and carry them north usually to Philadelphia or to New Bedford Massachusetts After conducting many other slaves through the Underground Railroad Bayne decided to become a passenger himself in March 1855 He and three other slaves disguised themselves and hid on ...

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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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Gregory S. Jackson

author, editor, and antislavery lecturer, was born into slavery on the plantation of David White of Shelby County, Kentucky, the son of James Bibb, a slaveholding planter and state senator, and Mildred Jackson. White began hiring Bibb out as a laborer on several neighboring plantations before he had reached the age of ten. The constant change in living situations throughout his childhood, combined with the inhumane treatment he often received at the hands of strangers, set a pattern for life that he would later refer to in his autobiography as “my manner of living on the road.” Bibb was sold more than six times between 1832 and 1840 and was forced to relocate to at least seven states throughout the South later as a free man his campaign for abolition took him throughout eastern Canada and the northern United States But such early instability also made the ...

Article

Elizabeth Mitchell

slave and guide, achieved fame in the decades preceding the Civil War. Nothing is known of his parents or early life, but it is known that Bishop was a slave belonging to Kentucky lawyer Franklin Gorin, who in the 1830s purchased Mammoth Cave for $5,000. Previous cave guides had been local white men, but Gorin either saw something promising in the teenaged Bishop or reasoned that he could save money by training a slave to do the same work. Either way, beginning in the spring of 1838 Bishop received training from the previous guide and quickly took to the job, learning the several miles of trail and numerous pits, rock formations, and other attractions of his underground place of employment.

Bishop was allowed to spend many hours exploring the cave on his own. In the fall of 1838 he penetrated a confusing maze of trails known as the ...

Article

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 ...

Article

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

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

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 ...

Article

Aaron Myers

George Washington Carver was born in Diamond, Missouri, of a slave mother and probably a slave father. His interest in plants began at an early age. Growing up in postemancipation Missouri under the care of his mother's former owner, Carver collected from the surrounding forests and fields a variety of wild plants and flowers, which he planted in a garden. At the age of ten, he left home of his own volition to attend a black school in the nearby community of Neosho, where he did chores for a black family in exchange for food and a place to sleep. He maintained his interest in plants while putting himself through high school in Minneapolis, Kansas, and during his first and only year at Simpson College in Iowa. During this period, he made many sketches of plants and flowers. He made the study of plants his focus in 1891 ...

Article

Linda O. McMurry

scientist and educator, was born in Diamond (formerly Diamond Grove), Missouri, the son of Mary Carver, who was the slave of Moses and Susan Carver. His father was said to have been a slave on a neighboring farm who was accidentally killed before Carver's birth. Slave raiders allegedly kidnapped his mother and older sister while he was very young, and he and his older brother were raised by the Carvers on their small farm.

Barred from the local school because of his color, Carver was sent to nearby Neosho in the mid-1870s to enter school. Having been privately tutored earlier, he soon learned that his teacher knew little more than he did, so he caught a ride with a family moving to Fort Scott, Kansas. Until 1890 Carver roamed around Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa seeking an education while supporting himself doing laundry, cooking, and homesteading.

In 1890 Carver ...

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Carolyn Wedin

naturalist, agricultural chemurgist, and educator. With arguably the most recognized name among black people in American history, George Washington Carver's image is due in part to his exceptional character, mission, and achievements; in part to the story he wanted told; and in part to the innumerable books, articles, hagiographies, exhibits, trade fairs, memorials, plays, and musicals that have made him a symbol of rags-to-riches American enterprise. His image has been used for postage stamps, his name has been inscribed on bridges and a nuclear submarine, and he even has his own day (5 January), designated by the United States Congress in 1946.

Thanks in large part to Linda O. McMurry's 1981 book, George Washington Carver: Scientist and Symbol it is now possible to separate legend from fact and discover the remarkable child youth and man behind the peanut McMurry concludes that Carver ...

Article

Cesar  

Elizabeth D. Schafer

slave and medical practitioner who developed primitive pharmaceuticals, is thought to have been born in Africa or the Caribbean and transported to the southern colonies as a slave. He might instead have been born into slavery in South Carolina. (His name is often spelled Caesar.) The names of his parents are unknown. He may have been the descendant of skilled medicine men, who transferred medical knowledge from their native cultures to the colonies, sharing drug recipes and folk remedies that used herbs and roots, or of slave midwives, who had performed cesarean sections in Africa and taught other slaves that procedure.

Cesar might also have had Native American ancestors because many Carolina slaves had intermarried with native tribes Southern Native Americans were known for their potent herbal remedies Slave physicians either were self taught or acquired some training from fellow slaves or masters and they became celebrities within their communities ...

Article

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 ...