Blaq Icons: Mae C. Jemison- Engineer, Physician & NASA Astronaut 

Mae Carol Jemison was born in Decatur, Alabama, on October 17, 1956, the youngest child of Charlie Jemison and Dorothy Green. Her father was a maintenance supervisor for a charity organization, and her mother worked most of her career as an elementary school teacher of English and math at the Beethoven School in Chicago.
The family moved to Chicago, Illinois, when Jemison was three years old, to take advantage of the better educational and employment opportunities there. Jemison says that as a young girl growing up in Chicago she always assumed she would get into space. “I thought, by now, we’d be going into space like you were going to work.”She said it was easier to apply to be a shuttle astronaut, “rather than waiting around in a cornfield, waiting for ET to pick me up or something.”
In her childhood, Jemison learned to make connections to science by studying nature. Once when a splinter infected her thumb as a little girl, Jemison’s mother turned it into a learning experience. She ended up doing a whole project about pus. Jemison’s parents were very supportive of her interest in science, while her teachers were not. “In kindergarten, my teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I told her a scientist,” Jemison says. “She said, ‘Don’t you mean a nurse?’ Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a nurse, but that’s not what I wanted to be.”In an interview with MAKERS.com, she further explains how her sheer interest in science was not accepted. “Growing up…I was just like every other kid. I loved space, stars and dinosaurs. I always knew I wanted to explore. At the time of the Apollo airing, everybody was thrilled about space, but I remember being irritated that there were no women astronauts. People tried to explain that to me, and I did not buy it.” 


Jemison says she was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.; to her King’s dream was not an elusive fantasy but a call to action. “Too often people paint him like Santa — smiley and inoffensive,” says Jemison. “But when I think of Martin Luther King, I think of attitude, audacity, and bravery.” Jemison thinks the civil rights movement was all about breaking down the barriers to human potential. “The best way to make dreams come true is to wake up.”
Jemison began dancing at the age of 11. “I love dancing! I took all kinds of dance — African dancing, ballet, jazz, modern — even Japanese dancing. I wanted to become a professional dancer,” said Jemison. At the age of 14, she auditioned for the leading role of “Maria” in West Side Story. She did not get the part but Jemison’s dancing skills did get her into the line up as a background dancer. “I had a problem with the singing but I danced and acted pretty well enough for them to choose me. I think that people sometimes limit themselves and so rob themselves of the opportunity to realise their dreams. For me, I love the sciences and I also love the arts,” says Jemison. “I saw the theatre as an outlet for this passion and so I decided to pursue this dream.”Later during her senior year in college, she was trying to decide whether to go to New York to medical school or become a professional dancer. Her mother told her, “You can always dance if you’re a doctor, but you can’t doctor if you’re a dancer.”
Jemison graduated from Chicago’s Morgan Park High School in 1973 and entered Stanford University at the age of 16. “I was naive and stubborn enough that it didn’t faze me,” Jemison said. “It’s not until recently that I realized that 16 was particularly young or that there were even any issues associated with my parents having enough confidence in me to [allow me to] go that far away from home.” Jemison graduated from Stanford in 1977, receiving a B.S. in chemical engineering and fulfilling the requirements for a B.A. in African and Afro-American Studies. She took initiative to get even further involved in the black community by serving as head of the Black Students Union during her college years. Jemison said that majoring in engineering as a black woman was difficult because race was always an issue in the United States. “Some professors would just pretend I wasn’t there. I would ask a question and a professor would act as if it was just so dumb, the dumbest question he had ever heard. Then, when a white guy would ask the same question, the professor would say, ‘That’s a very astute observation.'”In an interview with the Des Moines Register in 2008 Jemison said that it was difficult to go to Stanford at 16, but thinks her youthful arrogance may have helped her. “I did have to say, ‘I’m going to do this and I don’t give a crap (damn).'” She points out the unfairness of the necessity for women and minorities to have that attitude in some fields.


Jemison obtained her Doctor of Medicine degree in 1981 at Cornell Medical College. She interned at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center and later worked as a general practitioner. During medical school Jemison traveled to Cuba, Kenya and Thailand, to provide primary medical care to people living there. During her years at Cornell Medical College, Jemison took lessons in modern dance at the Alvin Ailey school. Jemison later built a dance studio in her home and has choreographed and produced several shows of modern jazz and African dance.

Gerald Anderson Lawson (Engineer) “Interchangeable Video Game Cartridges” 


Lawson was born in Queens, New York City on December 1, 1940. His father Blanton was a longshoreman with an interest in science, while his mother Mannings worked for the city, and also served on the PTA for the local school and made sure that he received a good education. Both encouraged his interests in scientific hobbies, including ham radio and chemistry. Lawson said that his first-grade teacher helped him encourage his path to be someone influential similar to George Washington Carver. While in high school, he earned money by repairing television sets. He attended both Queens College and City College of New York, but did not complete a degree at either.


In 1970, he joined Fairchild Semiconductor in San Francisco as an applications engineering consultant within their sales division. While there, he created the early arcade game Demolition Derby out of his garage. In the mid-1970s, Lawson was made Chief Hardware Engineer and director of engineering and marketing for Fairchild’s video game division. There, he led the development of the Fairchild Channel F console, released in 1976 and specifically designed to use swappable game cartridges. At the time, most game systems had the game programming stored on ROM storage soldered onto the game hardware, which could not be removed. Lawson and his team figured out how to move the ROM to a cartridge that could be inserted and removed from a console unit repeatedly, and without electrically shocking the user. This would allow users to buy into a library of games, and provided a new revenue stream for the console manufacturers through sales of these games. The Channel F was not a commercially successful product, but the cartridge approach was picked up by other console manufacturers, popularized with the Atari 2600 released in 1977.
While he was with Fairchild, Lawson and Ron Jones were the sole black members of the Homebrew Computer Club, a group of early computer hobbyists which would produce a number of industry legends, including Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Lawson had noted he had interviewered Wozniak for a position at Fairchild, but did not hire him.
In 1980, Lawson left Fairchild and founded Videosoft, a video game development company which made software for the Atari 2600 in the early 1980s, as the 2600 had displaced the Channel F as the top system in the market. Videosoft closed about five years later, and he started to take on consulting work. At one point, he had been working with Stevie Wonder to produce a “Wonder Clock” that would wake a child with the sound of a parent’s voice, though it never made it to production. Lawson later worked with the Stanford mentor program and was preparing to write a book on his career.


In March 2011, Lawson was honored as an industry pioneer for his work on the game cartridge concept by the International Game Developers Association (IGDA).

Blaq Icons: William Washington Browne “Started The First Blacked Owned Bank” 

William Washington Browne (Started First Black Owned Bank)


William Washington Browne was a slave, a Union solder during the American Civil War (1861–1865), a teacher, a Methodist minister, and the founder of Richmond’s Grand Fountain of the United Order of True Reformers, an African American fraternal organization. As leader of the True Reformers, Browne strived to help members live productive lives without depending upon the white community. By establishing insurance that provided members with sick and death benefits and by encouraging members to purchase land and engage in practices of temperance and thrift, Browne believed that blacks in the post–Civil War South could thrive. Browne’s enterprising mind helped lead the True Reformers in creating and organizing a bank which became the nation’s first chartered black financial institution and a model that others, such as Maggie Lena Walker, would follow. Browne died in 1897 and the True Reformers initially continued to prosper, but the order collapsed in the wake of the scandalous failure of its bank in 1910.

Blaq Icons: Oliver Lewis-First African American To Win Kentucky Derby 

Riding the colt Aristides, Oliver Lewis won the inaugural Kentucky Derby on May 17, 1875. His time of two minutes 37.75 seconds also set an American record over the mile and a half distance (the Kentucky Derby became a 1.25 mile race in 1896). Lewis was one of 13 black jockeys in the 15-strong field. Early in the race, he joined a small group behind Volcano, who led the race from the start. Lewis had been instructed to force the pace to favor another horse owned by H.P. McGrath, Chesapeake. But as they entered the final stretch Aristides and Volcano were out in front and Chesapeake was trailing the pack. Lewis, riding Aristides, won the race in front of 10,000 spectators by two lengths ahead of Volcano. Chesapeake came home eighth. Later the same season, again riding Aristides, Lewis took second in the Belmont Stakes and won three races on Churchill Downs that season, but he never rode in the Kentucky Derby again. Very little biographical information is available, but it is known that Lewis later served as a supplier of information about horses for a bookmaker, which was then legal.

Oliver Lewis First African American To Win Kentucky Derby

 
Oliver Lewis was born in 1856 in Fayette County, Kentucky; his parents were Goodson and Eleanor Lewis. Very little is known about Lewis’s life, but according to the Black Athlete Web site he was “A family man, a husband and father of six children.” Lewis was 19 years old in 1875 when he entered the inaugural Kentucky Derby riding Aristide, a colt owned by H. Price McGrath and trained by Ansel Williamson, who was also black. In fact blacks dominated racing in the late 1800s, winning 15 of the first 28 Derbies according to BlackAmericaWeb.com and training six of the first 17 winners. By the early 1900s, however, blacks had been pushed out of the business, which had also become wealthier and less accessible to the working classes. Black jockey James Winkfield won the Kentucky Derby in 1901 and 1902, but after 1921 there were no black riders in the race until Marlon St. Julien in 2000.
The 1875 race was held on May 17 at the newly-opened Louisville Jockey Club race track, now known as Churchill Downs. Lewis’s mount Aristides was one of two horses entered in the race by owner H. Price McGrath in hopes of netting the $2850 prize money. But it was the other horse—Chesapeake, ridden by William Henry—that was expected to win. Lewis’s role in the race was to force the pace so that Chesapeake could take the lead when the rest of the field tired. Aristides and Chesapeake started the race as favorites. Aristides’ reputation for powerful starts and Chesapeake’s strong finishing made them the two most likely contenders, but it was Volcano who took the lead from the start and pulled away, leaving Aristides, closely followed by Verdigris and McCreary just behind.
By the start of the home stretch the race was between Volcano and Aristides, with Chesapeake struggling in the pack. Wondering what was going on behind Lewis apparently eased up and looked back, but was waved on by owner McGrath, who was trackside on the home straight. Larry Muhammad, writing for BlackAthlete.net quotes the Courier-Journal’s play-by-play, published the next day: “Right gallantly did [Aristides] the game and speedy son of Leamington and Sarong answer the call to his forces, for he held his own all down the stretch in spite of most determined rushes on the part of Volcano and Verdigris, and dashed under the wire the winner of one of the fastest and hardest run races ever seen on track.” Lewis and Aristides led Volcano home by two lengths, with Verdigris trailing in third and Chesapeake eighth. Lewis’s time for the mile and a half long course (reduced to a mile and a quarter in 1896) was two minutes 37.75, an American record for the distance.
Lewis’s achievement in the opening year of what has become America’s longest-running sporting event went almost unrecognized for over a century. He rode Aristides to second place in the Belmont Stakes, which later became one of the “Triple Crown” races, and won a total of three races at the Louisville Jockey Club that season. He never rode another Kentucky Derby, but it is known that he attended the 33rd race, in 1907. Lewis’s career as a jockey did not last long. After a spell working as a day laborer Lewis began providing notes on racing form to bookmakers and later became a bookmaker himself, a profession that was then legal in the United States. Lewis’s methods of collecting data and compiling detailed handicapping charts have been likened to the systems used by the Daily Racing Form. Lewis passed on his bookmaking skills and business to his son James.
Despite his role in the history of one of America’s most famous sporting events, Lewis has been neglected by sportswriters for well over a century and his life beyond the famous race is practically undocumented. Lewis died in 1924 in Lexington, Kentucky, and is buried in the Lexington No. 2 Cemetery along with several other black jockeys of the period, including Isaac Murphy, who won the Derby three times.


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Blaq Icons: Gwendolyn E. Brooks 

Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was born on June 7, 1917, in Topeka, Kansas, and died on December 3, 2000 in Chicago, IL. She was the first child of David Anderson Brooks and Keziah (Wims) Brooks. Her father was a janitor for a music company who had hoped to pursue a career as a doctor but sacrificed that aspiration to get married and raise a family. Her mother was a school teacher as well as a concert pianist trained in classical music. Family lore held that her paternal grandfather had escaped slavery to join the Union forces during the American Civil War.

When Brooks was six weeks old, her family moved to Chicago during the Great Migration; from then on, Chicago remained her home. According to biographer Kenny Jackson Williams, Brooks first attended a prestigious integrated high school in the city with a predominantly white student body, Hyde Park High School, transferred to the all-black Wendell Phillips High School, and then moved to the integrated Englewood High School. After completing high school, she graduated in 1936 from Wilson Junior College, now known as Kennedy-King College. Due to the social dynamics of the various schools, in conjunction with time period in which she attended them, Brooks faced racial injustice that over time contributed to her understanding of the prejudice and bias in established systems and dominant institutions in her own surroundings as well as ever relevant mindset of the country.
Brooks began writing at an early age and her mother encouraged her saying, ”You are going to be the lady Paul Laurence Dunbar.”
After these early educational experiences, Brooks never pursued a four-year degree because she knew she wanted to be a writer and considered it unnecessary. “I am not a scholar,” she later said. “I’m just a writer who loves to write and will always write. ” She worked as a typist to support herself while she pursued her career.
She would closely identify with Chicago for the rest of her life. In a 1994 interview, she remarked on this,
“Living in the city, I wrote differently than I would have if I had been raised in Topeka, KS…I am an organic Chicagoan. Living there has given me a multiplicity of characters to aspire for. I hope to live there the rest of my days. That’s my headquarters.”

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Blaq Icon: Katherine Johnson-Physicist & Mathematician (Hidden Figures Movie)


Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson (born August 26, 1918) is an African American physicist and mathematician who made contributions to the United States’ aeronautics and space programs with the early application of digital electronic computers at NASA. Known for accuracy in computerized celestial navigation, she conducted technical work at NASA that spanned decades. During this time, she calculated the trajectories, launch windows, and emergency back-up return paths for many flights from Project Mercury, including the early NASA missions of John Glenn and Alan Shepard, and the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon, through the Space Shuttle program. Her calculations were critical to the success of these missions. Johnson also did calculations for plans for a mission to Mars.

Blaq Icon: Medgar W. Evers Civil Rights Activist 

Medgar Wiley Evers (July 2, 1925 – June 12, 1963) was an American civil rights activist from Mississippi who worked to overturn segregation at the University of Mississippi and to enact social justice and voting rights. He was killed by a segregationist.


A World War II veteran and college graduate, he became active in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s. He became a field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Following the 1954 ruling of the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated public schools were unconstitutional, Evers worked to gain admission for African Americans to the state-supported public University of Mississippi. He also worked on voting rights and registration, economic opportunity, access to public facilities, and other changes in the segregated society.

Evers was assassinated by Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens’ Council, a group formed in 1954 to resist integration of schools and civil rights activity. As a veteran, Evers was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.  His murder and the resulting trials inspired civil rights protests, as well as numerous works of art, music and film. All-white juries failed to reach verdicts in the first two trials of Beckwith. He was convicted in a new state trial in 1994, based on new evidence.
Myrlie Evers, widow of the activist, became a noted activist in her own right, serving as national chair of the NAACP. His brother Charles Evers was the first African-American mayor elected in Mississippi in the post-Reconstruction era when he won in 1969 in Fayette.

Blaq History Month: Robert Scott Duncanson A Black American Landscaping Artist 

Robert S. Duncanson was born in 1821. He was a Black artist.

From Seneca, New York, his parents were both mulatto. Robert Seldon Duncanson’s father earned a living as handymen and house painters. This background may have given Duncanson the opportunity to learn, informally, the craft and art of mixing pigments, working with brushes and paints and preparing and repairing surfaces. He is considered a self-taught artist. Duncanson decided early in his life that art would become his career and not just a hobby. In 1839, the Freedman’s Aid Society of Ohio raised money to send him to Glasgow, Scotland to study painting. Upon his return he went to live in Cincinnati where portrait and landscape painting were in demand.
Through the Western Art Union Duncanson was exposed to the prominent Hudson River School. By 1842 he was ready to exhibit his work in public. His first exhibition was sponsored by the Society for the Promotion of Useful Knowledge and opened the door for Duncanson to increase his visibility. He accepted several portrait commissions of abolitionists and other prosperous Cincinnati citizens. In 1853, he went to Europe and then returned to paint classical motifs into his landscapes, obviously influenced by his exposure in Europe to Neo-Classicism. During the Civil War, he was in England and Scotland and in 1872, suffered a mental breakdown and died shortly after.


Although not very well known by the general public, Duncanson had a significant impact on American art. As the first American painter to take up residence in Canada and focus on its landscape, Duncanson’s influence has been felt there as well. At a gallery showing in Harlem, the New York Amsterdam News called the works by Duncanson “pioneering.” It is not the genre he chose to paint in that was pioneering, it was the subtle way he infused his paintings with an African American sensibility without creating what the art world would categorize as African American paintings.
Audiences looking at Duncanson’s work have to concentrate, beyond the obvious associations with themes of landscape and idealized lands, to see the commentary on a post Civil War America and a socially aware African American artist. Instead, Richard Powell of American Visions says that Duncanson’s success is a “victory over society’s presumptions of what African American artist should create.” Duncanson’s artwork has become a useful tool in teaching art students about the history of African American artists. Robert Duncanson died on December 21, 1872.