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Article

Allen, Thomas Cox  

Caroline M. Brown

aviation mechanic and pilot, was born in Quitman, Wood County, Texas, the youngest of three children; both of his parents were teachers. Allen's father died when Thomas was three months old. His mother, Polly, continued to teach school and to run the family farm.

Allen became interested in flying in 1918, when an airplane made a forced landing in a pasture. The pilots paid the two young Allen brothers to guard the plane overnight so that its fabric and glue would not be eaten by cows. From this experience, Thomas Allen decided to become either an aviator or a mechanic.

In 1919 when Allen was twelve the family moved to Oklahoma City where his mother resumed teaching school Allen often bicycled to a nearby airfield In his teens he persuaded the field owner to take a $100 saxophone as partial trade for flying lessons He worked off the ...

Article

Alston, Melvin Ovenus  

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

Ball, Alice Augusta  

Paul Wermager

pharmacist, chemist, researcher, and instructor, was born in Seattle, Washington, one of four children of James P. Ball Jr., an attorney and photographer, and Laura Howard, a photographer and cosmetologist. Alice grew up in a remarkable family. Her grandfather, James Presley “J. P.” Ball Sr., a photographer, was one of the first blacks in the country to master the new art of the daguerreotype. His famous daguerreotype gallery in Cincinnati, Ohio, displayed a well-publicized six-hundred-yard panorama of pictures and paintings depicting the horrors of slavery. Later he opened photography galleries in Minneapolis, in Helena, Montana, in Seattle, and in Honolulu. Alice Ball's father, in addition to being a photographer, also was a newspaper editor and lawyer and was credited with having a lasting effect on Montana history. The Balls lived in Montana for several years before moving to Seattle, and Ball's newspaper, the Colored ...

Article

Boone, Sarah  

Pamela C. Edwards

inventor, lived in New Haven, Connecticut, in the early 1890s. Little is known of her early life; it is not known who her parents were or where she was born. She was, however, one of the first African American women to receive a patent from the United States Patent Office in the nineteenth century. On 26 April 1892 Sarah Boone received her patent for an improved ironing board. As a result, Boone became the fourth African American woman to apply for and receive a patent for a new invention and the first person to receive a patent for an ironing board design.

Those who have written about Boone and her improved ironing board note that her invention was a significant improvement over existing devices According to James Brodie before Boone s ironing board this task normally required taking a plank and placing it between two chairs or simply using the ...

Article

Brady, St. Elmo  

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 ...

Article

Brown, Solomon G.  

Linda Spencer

the first African American to work at the Smithsonian Institute, naturalist, and poet, was born free in what is now the Anacostia section of Washington, D.C. He was the fourth of six children born to Isaac and Rachel Brown. Little is known about Brown's family, except that his father died in 1833 and consequently the family struggled financially and lost their home in 1834. Brown received no formal education as a youngster. Because of prejudice and slavery in the 1800s, public education was not provided to free blacks living in Washington, D.C., until after the Emancipation Act in 1862. Brown was a self-educated man.

Accounts of Brown s early life indicate that there was an arrangement for him to live in the care of the assistant postmaster of Washington D C Lambert Tree Whether Brown was a household servant or an apprentice in Tree s work at ...

Article

Browne, Hugh M.  

Robert G. McGuire

Hugh M. Browne was born in Washington, D.C., in June 1851 to John Browne and Elizabeth Wormley. He had family connections among the most prominent free African Americans in Washington. His maternal aunt Mary Wormley established a school for free African Americans in 1832, and other members of the Wormley family owned a boardinghouse patronized by the Washington political elite. His paternal aunt Mary Browne Syphax was married to William Syphax, who had a position in the office of the secretary of the interior and who was a member of the board of trustees of the black public schools of Washington. Browne was educated in the schools of Washington, D.C. He received his B.A. degree from Howard University in 1875 and his M.A. degree in 1878. In 1878 he also received a B D degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and was ordained in the ...

Article

Browne, Marjorie Lee  

Andre D. Vann

educator, author, and one of the first black women in the United States to obtain a PhD degree in Mathematics, was one of two children born to Lawrence Johnson Lee and Mary (Taylor) Lee in Memphis, Tennessee. Before she was two years old her mother died and her father remarried. Her father, a railway postal clerk, and her stepmother, Lottie Lee, a school teacher, instilled in her the value of hard work and gave her a love for mathematics. Lawrence Lee had attended college for approximately two years and was regarded as a talented student of mental arithmetic.

In a 1979 interview Browne remarked I always always always liked mathematics As far back as I can remember I liked mathematics because it was a lonely subject I do have plenty of friends and I talk with them for hours at a time But I also like to be ...

Article

Coffey, Cornelius Robinson  

Jim Garrett

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

Ferguson, Lloyd Noel  

Robert Fikes

, chemist and educator, was born in Oakland, California, to Noel Swithin Ferguson, an insurance office clerk, and Gwendolyn Johnson, who may have been a domestic. When his father lost his job and the family home during the Great Depression, Ferguson was forced to work as a paperboy and as a porter for the Southern Pacific Railroad Company. His need for employment postponed his entrance into college. While in high school Ferguson invented practical household products such as Moth-O (a moth repellent), Presto-O (a silverware cleaner), and Lem-O (a lemonade powder), which he advertised and sold to neighbors. In 1936 he entered the University of California at Berkeley, majoring in chemistry. He graduated with honors in 1940 and was one of nine African Americans awarded bachelor s degrees that year Although he enjoyed friendly relations with the chemistry faculty four became Nobel laureates he was snubbed by ...

Article

Finley, Harold E.  

Audra J. Wolfe

protozoologist and microscopist, was born in Palatka, Florida, the son of Lugenia Bryant and Eugene Finley. As a high school student at Central Academy in Palatka, Finley played trumpet for Al Osgood's Hot Five, a local jazz band.

In 1928 he completed a BS in Biology at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, before moving to Madison, Wisconsin, to pursue graduate work in zoology under the direction of Lowell E. Noland. Although he would eventually return to Madison to finish his PhD, financial pressures forced Finley to leave the university with his master's in 1929. He married Eva Elizabeth Browning on 30 August that same year. They had two children, Harold Eugene and Eva Kathleen.

Finley's teaching career began in the biology department at West Virginia State College, where he served first as an instructor and later as associate professor. In 1938 he returned to ...

Article

Flipper, Henry Ossian  

John C. Fredriksen

soldier and engineer, 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 Smith preceded 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 14 June 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 ...

Article

Granville, Evelyn Boyd  

Olivia A. Scriven

mathematician, college professor, and public school reformer, was born Evelyn Boyd, the second of two girls of William Boyd, a blue-collar worker who held various jobs as a custodian, chauffeur, and messenger, and Julia Walker Boyd, a civil servant who worked for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing during the Depression. Granville received her early education in the pre–Brown v. Board of Education era of separate but equal public schools for blacks and whites Despite the dual system Boyd would later insist that she received a quality education in elementary and middle school and later at Dunbar High School one of three public high schools in the Washington D C area designated for black students Dunbar had a reputation for high academic standards and for emphasizing the importance of racial pride and personal excellence Recalling that period Granville writes My generation benefited ...

Article

Hawkins, Walter Lincoln  

Robert Jr. Johnson

chemical engineer and professor, was one of two children born in Washington, D.C., to William Langston Hawkins and Maude Johnson Hawkins. Walter Hawkins's father was from Wisconsin and came to Washington with a law degree but spent most of his career as a civil servant in the U.S. Census Bureau. His mother taught general science in the city's public school system. Walter's inclination toward the sciences began with the simple experiments his mother conducted to entertain the children. “Linc,” as he preferred to be called, spent a good amount of his playtime building gadgets. From simple radio sets to more complex contraptions, he was fascinated with how things worked.

He attended Dunbar High School where many of the faculty members were highly skilled black PhDs Hawkins credited this intellectually challenging environment with providing the inspiration for his choice of a career in chemistry and engineering One highly influential ...

Article

Henry, Warren Elliott  

Jeffrey R. Yost

physicist, was born in Evergreen, Alabama. His father, Nelson Henry, and his mother, Mattye McDaniel Henry, were public school teachers who had graduated from Tuskegee Institute. Education was deeply valued in the Henry household, and Warren's parents brought him along to the classroom and encouraged him to study long hours during his adolescent and teenage years. He became interested in science early in life, though he did not have the opportunity to take any science courses until his senior year, when he transferred to Alabama State Normal, a school in Montgomery that concentrated on preparing future elementary school teachers. Following in his parents' footsteps, Henry worked his way through Tuskegee Institute as a night watchman and at a pharmacy, receiving a bachelor of science degree in 1931 majoring in mathematics English and French He also completed course work in chemistry and physics and worked summers on ...

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

Hunter, John McNeile  

Audra J. Wolfe

physicist, was born in Woodville, Texas, the oldest son of John Alexander Hunter and Mary Evelyn Virginia (Edwards) Hunter His father a former school principal had moved to Texas from Louisiana soon after his marriage to Edwards who had been one of his students His mother was a teacher home demonstration agent and administrator The young family only stayed in Woodville for about a year before moving again first to La Porte and later to Jennings Island Texas where Hunter s father secured a ninety nine year lease on a property and began developing a ranch Hunter s father taught Hunter and his brother at home for the first five grades Once he was officially enrolled in classes at La Porte Texas Hunter had to cross two and a half miles of open water to reach the classroom He completed his secondary education at Prairie View State Normal ...

Article

Imes, Elmer Samuel  

Ronald E. Mickens

physicist, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Benjamin A. Imes, a minister, and Elizabeth Wallace. Imes attended school in Oberlin, Ohio, and the Agricultural and Mechanical High School in Normal, Alabama. Imes then enrolled at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he received his BA in Science in 1903. Upon graduating, Imes accepted a position at Albany Normal Institute in Albany, Georgia, where he taught mathematics and physics. He returned to Fisk in 1910 and for the next five years worked toward an MS in Science while serving as an instructor in science and mathematics. After receiving his master's degree in 1915, Imes entered the University of Michigan's doctoral physics program, where he worked closely with Harrison M. Randall, who had recently returned from Germany. Randall had studied the infrared region of the spectrum in Friedrich Paschen's spectroscopy laboratory at Tübingen ...

Article

Jefferson, Roland M.  

Isabel Shipley Cunningham

research botanist and plant collector, was born in Washington, D.C., the second son of Edward Wilson Jefferson and Bernice Cornelia Bond, both U.S. government employees. Although his father held two jobs to support his family during the Depression, he found the time to carefully tend a flower garden, the pride of his neighborhood. A six-year-old Roland watched with interest as seeds his father planted sprouted and grew. When his family visited Potomac Park to see the famous Japanese cherry trees in bloom, Roland came to love the trees, not imagining that he would become an international authority on flowering cherries. After attending public schools in Washington, Jefferson served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. Following his discharge, he entered Howard University under the G.I. Bill of Rights and received his BS degree in Botany in 1950 and then pursued graduate study Searching for ...

Article

Johnson, James Alloyd  

Bob Greene

inventor, educator, author, race driver, musician, and community leader, was born in Portland, Cumberland County, Maine, the son of Frank M. Johnson and Eva M. Deering. His father died when he was three years old and his mother remarried James Verra, a widower. Johnson, called both Jim and, in his early years, Lloyd, was raised along with Mr. Verra's five children.

After graduating from Portland High School in 1928 Johnson enrolled at the Franklin Institute a technical school in Boston Massachusetts His interest in automobiles had begun early and he became a mechanic and a machinist His teaching ability was first noticed while he was serving in the U S Navy during World War II where Johnson was praised by Naval officials He instructed ordinance trainees and helped research a new technique for indexing all destroyer gun batteries and ...