Black History Month 2019: Day 1 – STEM in the 19th Century

Welcome Black History Month. Would you believe I’ve been researching Black History for nearly 30 years and the first thing I ever chose to study was blacks in science. Armed with books by Ivan Van Sertima and JA Rogers, I read about, and did presentations about Egypt, African astronomy and architecture and so many of the “African-American Firsts” of the 19th and 20th century. Turn forward 30 years, and now there is the Internet, where there has been such a fantastic effort to uncover black scientists and inventors, that I am overwhelmed with examples of our contributions to all scientific and engineering fields. Today we are in every major university, every Fortune 500 manufacturing company, every national lab. We are inventing things, we are discovering things, and we are running things. So of course, I can’t wait to share with you my “discoveries”.

The first African-American to ever receive a patent was Thomas Jennings, a free man, born in 1791 in New York who worked as a tailor. In 1821, he patented a process called dry-scouring, the forerunner to today’s modern dry-cleaning. Slaves could not patent inventions – their masters owned rights to their creativity based on US patent laws passed in 1793. But because Jennings was free, he was able to profit from his invention, and used the money to free others in his family. Slavery was legal in New York up until 1827.

Norbert Rillieux, was a free, half-white Creole, born in Louisiana in 1806 whose father had a sugar plantation. Rillieux was educated in Catholic private schools in Louisiana, then studied engineering in France. Rillieux revolutionized the sugar industry with the multiple-effect evaporator, a device that produced high-quality sugar and reduced production costs by using steam efficiently to evaporate water and prevent sugar from burning or being discolored. Rillieux was given credit for his invention and was sought after, but the discrimination he faced made him return to France.

Henry Blair was the second African-American to receive a patent. A free man born in Maryland in 1807, his first invention was the Seed-Planter,[2] patented in, 1834, which allowed farmers to plant more corn using less labor in a smaller amount of time. In 1836[3] he obtained a second patent for a cotton planter. This invention worked by splitting the ground with two shovel-like blades which were pulled along by a horse. A wheel-driven cylinder followed behind which dropped the seed into the newly plowed ground

Benjamin Bradley, also born in Maryland in 1830, was a slave. As a teenager, Bradley was put to work at an office where he built a working steam engine from pieces of scrap metal. Others were so impressed with Bradley’s mechanical skills that he was given a job as an assistant in the science department at the United States Naval Academy . His master kept all but $5 a month. Bradley saved the money he earned, and sold his original model engine to a student at the Academy. He then used this money to develop and build an engine large enough to run the first steam-powered warship. Instead of patenting it, he sold the rights to it in order to buy his freedom.

Alexander Miles, born free in Minnesota in 1830, patented automatic elevator doors, keeping people from falling into elevator shafts. His was not the first such invention, but his is similar to what is used today. Prior to automatic elevator doors, doors wer opened by either the elevator operator (now you know why those folks were so important!) or by passengers, contributing greatly to the hazards of operating an elevator. Miles attached a flexible belt to the elevator cage, and when the belt came into contact with drums positioned along the elevator shaft just above and below the floors, it allowed the elevator shaft doors to operate at the appropriate times. The elevator doors themselves were automated through a series of levers and rollers.

Elijah McCoy and Andrew Jackson Beard were inventors who came up with devices related to the fast growing train industry. McCoy, born free in Canada in 1844, studied engineering in Scotland. He held 57 different patents having to do with lubricating steam engines. His most famous device was an oil-drip cup which allowed machines in motion to remain oiled. Beard was born a slave in Alabama in 1849. After emancipation, he invented the Jenny Coupler – an improvement on an earlier “knuckle coupler’ which automatically locked two train car-bumps together, so that it didn’t have to be done manually. Car coupling, an extremely dangerous task, required a railroad worker to brace himself between cars and drop a metal pin into place at the exact moment the cars came together. Few railroad men kept all their fingers, many lost arms and hands. Some were caught between cars and crushed to death during the hazardous split-second operation. Beard himself lost a leg as a result of a car coupling accident.


Lewis Latimer was born free in Massachusetts in 1848, the son of runaway slaves. He worked in the navy during the Civil War, then worked in a patent law firm, where he learned drafting. His earliest patent was for an improvement to toilets in railroad cars. Alexander Graham Bell had Latimer draft the drawings to patent his telephone. He was later hired by a firm in competition with Edisons’s lighting company where he co0invented a lightbulb with a carbon filament that allows a lightbulb to burn for hundreds of hours. Edison’s lightbulb filament was made of paper and burned out quickly. The Edison Electric Light Company in New York City hired Latimer in 1884, as a draftsman and an expert witness in patent litigation on electric lights. While at Edison, Latimer wrote the first book on electric lighting, Incandescent Electric Lighting (1890) and supervised the installation of public electric lights throughout New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, and London

Jan Ernst Matzeliger was born in Dutch Giuiana/Suriname on a coffee plantation in 1852. He left at age 19 and moved first to Pennsylvania, and later to Massachussetts. Matzeliger invented an automated shoemaking machine that increased shoe production from 50 shoes per day sewed by hand, to 700 shoes/day with machine stitching. As a result, the cost of shoes was cut in half. Matzeliger sacrificed his health to develop his invention and a cold turned into tuberculosis, causing his death at age 37.

On a different level, Edward Bouchet, born in 1852 in Connecticut became the first black man to ever receive a PhD from an American university. He received his PhD in physics from Yale in 1876. Unsurprisingly, in 1876, no college or university would allow him to teach. So he took a position at Philadelphia’s Institute for Colored Youth which later became, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, our nation’s first HBCU. He floated around to different schools in the turn of the century, ending up at another HBCU, Bishop College in Texas. He returned to Connecticut to retire.

One of our greatest 19th century inventors was Granville T. Woods. Woods was born a free man in Ohio in 1856; He studied mechanical and electrical engineering from 1876-1878. In 1885, Woods patented an apparatus which was a combination of a telephone and a telegraph. The device, which he called “telegraphony”, would allow a telegraph station to send voice and telegraph messages over a single wire. In 1887, he patented the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph which allowed communications between train stations from moving trains. Over the course of his lifetime Granville Woods would obtain more than 50 patents for inventions including an automatic brake and an egg incubator and for improvements to other inventions such as safety circuits, telegraph, telephone, and phonograph. He died on January 30, 1910 in New York City, having sold a number of his devices to such companies as Westinghouse, General Electric and American Engineering.


So, what do you think! Were we busy! Next week, I’ll highlight some turn-of-the-century inventors, and then I’ll move solidly into the 20th century.

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Black History Month 2019 – #7: Fourteen Black Doctors who Made History

It’s 2017 and Black doctors only make up about 7.5 percent of the US physician workforce. While there’s still much progress to be made, African Americans already figure significantly in the history of medicine.

There were many articles about African American doctors who were firsts in their fields. I pared it down to 14 that I thought were outstanding. Here are 14 African American MDs who made medical history:

  1. James McCune Smith was the first African American to earn an MD and practice in the United States. After he was denied college admission in the United States, he moved to Scotland and earned his medical degree there in 1837. Smith also is believed to be the first black physician to publish articles in U.S. medical journals. His writings include texts on science, education, racism and literature. Dr. Smith opened what’s thought to be the country’s first African American-owned pharmacy. He used his training in medicine and statistics to refute common misconceptions about race, intelligence, medicine and society in general.


  1. Alexander Augusta was the first black physician appointed director of a US hospital. Dr. Augusta earned his medical degree at Trinity Medical College in Toronto, Canada, and established a successful medical practice in Canada before relocating to the U.S. in 1862. Drafted to serve in the Civil War, Dr. Augusta became the first commissioned black surgeon in the U.S. Army in 1863. He later became the first black physician to direct a U.S. hospital — Freedman’s Hospital in Washington D.C, at the placement of President Lincoln. In 1865, Augusta was promoted to lieutenant colonel, at the time the highest-ranking black officer in the U.S. military.  He was mustered out of service in 1866. After the military, Augusta was in charge of the Lincoln Hospital in Savannah, Georgia until 1868 when he started his own practice in Washington, D.C. Dr. Augusta continued in private practice and became a professor at Howard University Medical Department. He died in 1890 and was the first black officer to be buried in the Arlington National Cemetery.


  1. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, a Delaware native, is widely acknowledged as the first African-American woman physician in the U.S. She was born in 1831 and worked as a nurse in Massachusetts before applying to the New England Female Medical College in 1860.She graduated in 1864, becoming the first and only African-American graduate of that institution, which closed in 1873. For many years, Crumpler’s status as the first African-American woman to become a physician was not known; that distinction was mistakenly given to Rebecca Cole, who graduated from Women’s Medical College in Pennsylvania three years after Crumpler’s graduation Dr. Crumpler published a Book of Medical Discourses in 1883, which drew information from her clinical experiences to help women better care for the health of their families It is one of the very first medical publications by an African-American. She purposely moved her practice to Richmond, Virginia after the Civil War ended to serve African-Americans there, despite the intense racism that was prevalent.


  1. Daniel Hale Williams was a doctor of many “firsts”. He was the first physician to found a black-owned hospital with an interracial staff – Chicago’s Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses in 1891, one of the first physicians to perform open heart surgery in the US in 1893, the first to establish a professional organization for black medical practitioners in 1895 – the National Medical Association, and was the first black member of the American College of Surgeons which he was a charter member of in 1913. He was well ahead of his time, using sterilization procedures in his practice that were developed by Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister to prevent germ transmission. From 1893-1898, he was Surgeon-in-Chief at, Freedmen’s Hospital, Washington, DC. He revitalized the hospital that cared for former slaves, improving surgical procedures, increasing specialization, and launching ambulance services. .


  1. Solomon Carter Fuller was the first Black psychiatrist in the United States recognized by the APA. Fuller researched degenerative brain disorders with Dr. Alois Alzheimer while in medical school and became an authority on Alzheimer’s disease research. After earning his medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine in 1897, Fuller pioneered Alzheimer’s research during his career and advanced the study of many other neurodegenerative diseases, including schizophrenia and manic depression. He published the first comprehensive review of Alzheimer’s cases in 1912. He also helped correctly diagnose and train others to correctly diagnose the side effects of syphilis to prevent black war veterans from getting misdiagnosed, discharged, and ineligible for military benefits. He eventually became an emeritus professor of neurology at Boston University.


  1. William Augustus Hinton: graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1909, after which he worked in Harvard’s Wassermann Laboratory. Dr. Hinton was appointed professor of preventive medicine and hygiene at Harvard Medical School in 1918 — the first black instructor in the school’s history. From 1921-1946, he taught bacteriology and immunology at Harvard before being promoted to clinical professor in 1949.Dr. Hinton later became a world-renowned expert in the diagnosis and treatment of syphilis. In 1927, he developed a diagnostic test for syphilis, known as the Hinton test, which was eventually endorsed by the U.S. Public Health Service. Hinton was the first African-American physician to publish a textbook, called Syphilis and Its Treatment.


  1.   Charles R. Drew was the first African American to earn an MD from Columbia University in 1940.  Drew pioneered methods of storing blood plasma for transfusion and organized the first large-scale blood bank in the U.S. during WWII. Following the war, Dr. Drew began developing a blood storage program at the American Red Cross but resigned soon after officials decided to segregate the blood of African-Americans Dr. Drew was first black examiner for the American Board of Surgery. He was the first Director of the American Red Cross Blood Bank, a professor at Howard University and Chief Surgeon at Freedmen’s Hospital.


  1. Louis T. Wright graduated fourth in his class at Harvard Medical School. His step-father, William Fletcher Penn, was the first African-American to graduate from Yale School of Medicine. While serving as a lieutenant in the Army Medical Corps in World War I, Dr. Wright developed the intradermal injection vaccination technique. In 1919, he moved to New York amid racial tensions in Georgia to set up a private practice in Harlem and established ties to the Harlem Hospital, where he was the first African-American on the surgical staff. I n his thirty years at the hospital,  he started the Harlem Hospital Bulletin, headed the team that first used chlortetracycline on humans, founded the hospital’s cancer research center, and earned a reputation as an expert on head injuries


  1. Jane C. Wright, daughter of Louis T. Wright and niece of Harold Dadford West, president of Meharry Medical College, is a pioneering cancer researcher and accomplished surgeon. Her work is largely responsible for elevating chemotherapy from a last-ditch effort at treating cancer patients to a viable treatment option. She completed her residency at Harlem (N.Y.) Hospital, where she later served as chief resident. In 1964, working as part of a team at New York University School of Medicine, Dr. Wright developed a nonsurgical method using a catheter system to deliver heavy doses of anticancer drugs to previously hard-to-reach tumor areas in the kidneys, spleen and elsewhere. Dr. Wright served as associate dean and head of cancer chemotherapy department at New York Medical College in New York City in 1967. In 1964, she was the only woman among seven physicians who helped to found the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and in 1971, she was the first woman elected president of the New York Cancer Society.


  1. Patricia Bath is a pioneer in the treatment and prevention of blindness. She also advocated for eyesight as a basic human right by founding the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness in 1976. She discovered that African Americans were twice as likely to suffer from blindness and eight times more likely to develop glaucoma than others and as a result, created a community ophthalmology system which increased eye care to the underserved. Bath became the first African-American to complete a residency in ophthalmology in 1973, which led to her appointment two years later as the first woman faculty member at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute. In 1988, Bath became the first African-American woman physician to receive a medical patent with her Laserphaco Probe, which improved cataract treatment. Dr. Bath retired from her post 10 years later and has since become an advocate for telemedicine, serving in roles related to the emerging technology at Howard University and St. George’s University in Grenada.


  1. Alexa Canady became the first African-American woman neurosurgeon in the U.S. in 1981. She served as chief of neurosurgery at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan from 1987-2001. She completed her residency at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and went on to specialize in pediatric neurosurgery, practicing at a number of respected medical institutions. In her most notable role, she served as chief of neurosurgery at Detroit-based Children’s Hospital of Michigan from 1987 to 2001. Under her guidance, the department gained national recognition and has consistently been ranked among America’s best pediatric neurosurgery programs in S. News & World Report‘s Best Children’s Hospitals list. Intending to retire when she moved to Florida, Canady instead began practicing part-time after learning that there were no pediatric neurosurgeons based at Pensacola’s Sacred Heart Hospital.


  1. Marilyn Hughes Gaston was the first African American and female director of a public health bureau – the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Bureau of Primary Health Care where she focused on improving healthcare access to underserved and minority communities from 1990-2001. Gaston earned her medical degree from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in 1964 and completed her internship in pediatric medicine at Philadelphia General Hospital. She is credited for her groundbreaking research in sickle cell anemia and published a study of sickle-cell anemia in 1986 that led to a nationwide test for newborns.


  1. Joycelyn Elders The unapologetically outspoken Dr. Elders was appointed the first African-American Surgeon General by President Bill Clinton in 1993, and subsequently asked to resign when the administration took exception to Dr. Elders’ outspoken advocacy of early sex education, drug education and distribution of contraception in schools. Born to a family of impoverished farmers in 1933, Jocelyn Elders grew up in a rural, segregated pocket of Arkansas. In spite of socioeconomic obstacles, Dr. Elders earned her medical degree from the University of Arkansas Medical School in Little Rock in 1960. She returned to the university for her residency in 1961, after which she became chief resident responsible for a team of all-white, all-male residents and interns. Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton appointed Dr. Elders director of the Arkansas Department of Health in 1987. Dr. Elders spent many years teaching medicine and was an accomplished pediatric endocrinologist. She remains a voice for progressive ideas in medicine and education.

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Black History Month 2019 – #6 – NASA’s Black Astronauts in Space

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. While NASA would conduct all non-military space activity, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was created in February 1958 to develop space technology for military application. In reviewing the various space flights I have seen areas where the lines are fuzzy…


The new agency was to have a distinctly civilian orientation, encouraging peaceful applications in space scienceSince its establishment, most US space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo Moon landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle.


There have been 833 total number of crewmembers of all 135 space shuttle missions, with some individuals riding multiple times and 14 astronauts killed during the Challenger and Columbia accidents. Of those astronauts, 15 have been African-American, and all have flown on the Space Shuttle missions, begun in 1972, after the Gemini and Apollo programs were completed. Space Shuttle projects involved launching satellites, conducting experiments in zero-gravity, and enabling other countries in Europe, Japan and Russia to participate in the Space program, launching satellites of their own.

Here are the first five black astronauts who went into space.


Guion S. Bluford Jr. was born in 1942. He received a BS in aerospace engineering from Pennsylvania State University in 1964; an MS and PhD in aerospace engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1978; with a minor in laser physics and a Master in Business Administration from the University of Houston-Clear Lake in 1987. Before becoming an astronaut, Bluford was an officer in the U.S. Air Force, where he remained while assigned to NASA, rising to the rank of Colonel. He flew 144 combat missions, 65 of which were over North Vietnam. Bluford became a NASA astronaut in August 1979 and became the first African-American in space in 1983. He is a veteran of four spaceflights and was a Mission Specialist on STS-8 (1983), completing 98 orbits of the Earth in 145 hours and launching an Indian communications and weather observation satellite STS-61-A (1985) conducting experiments in microgravity, STS-39 (1991) conducting DoD experiments and STS-53 (1992) which launched a DoD satellite.

Ronald E. McNair, Ph.D. was born in 1950, received a BS in physics from North Carolina A&T State University in 1971 and a PhD in physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1976. McNair was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1978. He flew on STS-41-B aboard Challenger in 1984, becoming the second African American and the first Bahá’í to fly in space. On this mission, the Challenger launched two satellites and included the first untethered spacewalk. Following this mission, McNair was selected for STS-51-L, which launched on January 28, 1986, and was subsequently killed when Challenger disintegrated nine miles above the Atlantic Ocean just 73 seconds after liftoff.

Frederick D. Gregory was born in 1941, received a BS from the United States Air Force Academy in 1964 and a master’s degree in information systems from George Washington University in 1977. During his time in the Air Force, Gregory logged approximately 7,000 hours in more than 50 types of aircraft as a helicopter, fighter and test pilot. He flew 550 combat rescue missions in Vietnam. Selected as an astronaut candidate in 1978. Gregory became the first African-American to pilot a space craft, commanding the orbiter Challenger on mission STS-51B carrying the fully operational European Space Agency’s Spacelab and conducting microgravity experiments. He was then the first African-American to command any space mission with the launch of STS-33 in 1989 on the orbiter Discovery, which carried a classified payload. He then commanded STS-44 on Atlantis which in addition to deploying a Department of Defense satellite, DPS 15, also conducted extensive studies to evaluate medical countermeasures to long duration space flight. After leaving the Astronaut office, Gregory led the agency’s Safety and Mission Assurance effort and later the Office of Space Flight. He retired as NASA’s Deputy Administrator in 2005.


Charles F. Bolden Jr. was Born in 1946, received a BS in electrical science from the United States Naval Academy in 1968 and became a Marine aviator and test pilot. He flew more than 100 sorties into North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in the A-6A Intruder while assigned to VMA(AW)-533 at Royal Thai Air Base Nam Phong, Thailand, from June 1972 to June 1973. In 1977, he received an MS in systems management from the University of Southern California. Selected by NASA in May 1980. Bolden is a veteran of four space-flights, with over 680 hours in space. Served as Pilot on STS-61C (1986) to deploy a communications satellite, and STS-31 (1990) to lunch the Hubble Space Telescope and Commander on STS-45 (1992) conducting studies in atmospheric chemistry, solar radiation, space plasma physics and ultraviolet astronomy.and STS-60 (1994) also conducting experiments. Bolden was selected as the 12th NASA administrator and first African-American administrator in 2009, leading the agency to achieve NASA’s mission and goals. He retired as NASA administrator in 2017

Mae C. Jemison, M.D. born in 1956, Received a BS in chemical engineering (and fulfilled the requirements for a BA in African and Afro-American studies) from Stanford University in 1977 and a doctorate degree in medicine from Cornell University in 1981. Jemison was selected for the astronaut program in 1987 and was the science Mission Specialist on STS-47 (1992) Spacelab-J with over 190 hours in space. Jemison was a co-investigator of two bone cell research experiments, one of 43 investigations that were done on STS-47. Jemison also conducted experiments on weightlessness and motion sickness on herself and six other crew members.

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Black History Month 2019 – #4: NASAs Black Pioneers of the 1960’s

The Space Race began on August 2, 1955, when the Soviet Union responded to the US announcement four days earlier of intent to launch artificial satellites for the International Geophysical Year, by declaring they would also launch a satellite “in the near future”. The Soviet Union beat the US to the first successful launch, with the October 4, 1957, orbiting of Sputnik 1, and later beat the US to have the first human in earth orbit, Yuri Gagarin, on April 12, 1961. Subsequently, in 1961 President John F. Kennedy proposed the ambitious goal “of landing a man on the Moon by the end of [the 1960s], and returning him safely to the Earth.” At the same time, Kennedy chose federal employment as one of the tools to force integration.


The Space Race created over 200,000 jobs in the Deep South, at the NASA Centers in Alabama (George C. Marshall Space Flight Center), Florida (JFK Space Center), Texas (LBJ Space Center), Mississippi (John C. Stennis Space Center), and Louisiana (Michoud Assembly Facility).


Kennedy placed Vice-President Johnson at the heads of both his National Space Council and the President’s Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity, enabling the vice president to implement the strategy. NASA and its contractors were required to hire blacks, creating upper-level job opportunities that had never been available before to them, well before passage of the Civil Rights Act made equal employment opportunity the law of the land.


Johnson saw the task of bringing social and economic change as beyond the power of the private sector because the region’s low-wage economy encouraged business interests to keep “their workers—both black and white—languishing in ill health, hunger and ignorance,” “Bringing in the full force of federal power was the only way Johnson saw of integrating the South into the mainstream of America’s economic life.” To advance, the region needed well-paying jobs, like those the moonshot could provide, that would require and attract educated and skilled workers. Making sure African-Americans got a share of them would raise both their economic and social standing.


NASA hired Charlie Smoot, called the “first Negro recruiter” in official agency histories, to travel the nation recruiting black engineers and scientists for NASA—a challenging task given their understandable skepticism about moving to NASA’s locations in the Deep South. To provide a supply of talent, Smoot helped organize a co-op program at Southern University, Baton Rouge, in 1963, in which students alternated semesters at school with semesters at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. That brought to NASA Marshall some of the first African-American engineers it employed in the South. Walter Applewhite, Wesley Carter, George Bourda, Tommy Dubone, William Winfield, Frank C. Williams Jr., and Morgan Watson became the embodiment of Johnson’s plan for jobs in the South. Frank Williams helped design the ground-support equipment for the Apollo program. Morgan Watson worked in propulsion, testing the Saturn 1-B, the forerunner of the Saturn V. Three other technicians at Huntsville included Delano Hyder, Richard Hall and Clyde Foster. Foster, on loan from the space agency to all-black Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University in Huntsville, established the state’s first degree program in computer science, a curriculum that fed a stream of graduates into MSFC. Foster became director of Marshall’s Equal Opportunity Office.


Before the coop program, the first black engineering technician on record was Julius Montgomery. A linotype operator from Tuskegee, Montgomery was drafted into the Air Force, where he earned a First Class Radiotelephone Operator’s License. This made him attractive to NASA and they hired him in 1959. Montgomery was hired as a range rat. And that means that when a missile misfired, he would go down range with the other guys. And they would find what went wrong, and they would fix it. Montgomery also built missile components, with tasks involving tracking, timing, radar and telemetry. Sometimes Montgomery played hardball and other times, he was a quiet integrator. For example, Montgomery signed up for a training program in 1959 at the new Brevard Engineering College, which at the time leased classrooms in a segregated public school. When the school found out Montgomery signed up for a class there, they threatened to evict the college. Rather than a showdown of some kind, Montgomery agreed to withdraw from the class until the college moved to its own building several months later. Brevard Engineering College is now known as the Florida Institute of Technology, which later named an award in Montgomery’s honor.


In 1961, Edward Dwight became the first African-American slated for space travel. Dwight joined the Air Force in 1953. While in the Air Force, he attended Arizona State and graduated with a BS Aeronautical Engineering in 1957. He next went to USAF Test Pilot School, graduating with an MS in Astronautics – 1961. 1962 – US Aerospace Research Pilot School. Dwight became famous, with his picture on the cover of several black magazines. However, he faced severe discrimination from many of his fellow trainees as well as from government officials.  Despite facing discrimination from other astronauts, Dwight persevered until the assassination of President Kennedy, after which government officials created a threatening atmosphere and he was assigned to be a liaison officer in Germany to a non-existent German test pilot school. This eventually prompted him to resign from the Air Force.


Two other noteworthy engineers, who didn’t work in the Deep South, were George Carruthers and Frank Crossley.


In 1964, George Carruthers began employment for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., where his work focused on far ultraviolet astronomy. Previously he had obtained a BS in Aeronautical Engineering, an MS in Nuclear Engineering and a PhD in Aeronautical and Astronomical Engineering from the University of Illinois. 1969 was the year he received a patent for his invention, the “Image Converter,” an ultraviolet camera/spectograph which detected electromagnetic radiation in short wavelengths, and in 1970, he made the first examination of molecular hydrogen in space. Carruthers’s camera was used by NASA when it launched Apollo 16 in 1972.


Frank Crossley was a man of many firsts. He was one of the first black officers in the Navy, and one out of 1500 in the Navy Officer Training Program serving as a Navy ensign in the Philippines at the close of WWII. He was also the first African American to obtain a PhD in metallurgical engineering. And he was one of the first African-Americans to work as an engineer for a NASA contractor. And finally after obtaining his PhD from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1950, the president of the college insisted that he be hired at the IIT Research Institute. During his tenure at IITRI, he began development of a new class of high-strength titanium alloys initially intended for use on submarines. The next nearly decade and a half saw him working as a senior scientist, at which point he transferred to Lockheed Missiles & Space Company, in 1966, where he worked as a senior member of the research laboratory for eight years. He continued his groundbreaking work, contributing to the advancement of titanium technologies in the aerospace industry. After Lockheed, he worked at GenCorp AeroJet, retiring from there in 1991. Over the course of his career, he received seven patents and authored over 60 technical papers.


I wish there was more information about all of these men. Much of it comes from a book: “We Could Not Fail”, strangely, written by two white guys, one of whom did his master’s thesis on NASA and the Civil Rights Movement. The book spawned several articles, but by and large, these men did not make it into any of the black history sites such as or

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Black History Month 2019 #4 – The West Area Computers

When I first saw Hidden Figures, I figured that NASA was a progressive organization at the forefront of integration. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many of NASAs centers were in the deep South. Florida, Alabama, Texas. And they did NOT want to integrate. Not only did they claim that there were no blacks who could excel in the sciences, they also refused to hire in the non-technical areas. So, the few African-Americans who made it into NASA were beyond stellar. They were amazing.

I’m going to break the “NASA report” into three sections. First I’ll cover the West Area Computers. Then 10 trailblazers of the 1970’s, then our black astronauts.

And now: The West Area Computers.

Before there was NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, there was NACA, the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics. Built in 1917, Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory  was the headquarters for NACA which was intended to turn the floundering flying gadgets of the day into war machines. The agency was dissolved in 1958, to be replaced by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as the space race gained speed.

The term “computer” originally referred to people, usually women, who performed complex mathematical calculations. Computers have a long history dating back to the 18th century when computers would assist with astronomical and military calculations. In the 20th century, the role of computers became a gendered role as women processed large-scale data that would undergird the work of male engineers and scientists. In the late 19th and early 20thcentury, female “computers” at Harvard University analyzed star photos to learn more about their basic properties. These women made discoveries still fundamental to astronomy today.

Ushered into the Langley in 1935 to shoulder the burden of number crunching, the women who were human computers freed the male engineers of hand calculations in the decades before the digital age. Sharp and successful, the female population at Langley skyrocketed. Current estimates give the number of women computers to be in the thousands.

The first black computers didn’t set foot at Langley until the 1940s. Though the pressing needs of war were great, racial discrimination remained strong and few jobs existed for African-Americans, regardless of gender. That was until 1941 when A. Philip Randolph, pioneering civil rights activist, proposed a march on Washington, D.C., to draw attention to the continued injustices of racial discrimination. With the threat of 100,000 people swarming to the Capitol, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, preventing racial discrimination in hiring for federal and war-related work. This order also cleared the way for the black computers, slide rule in hand, to make their way into NACA history. African American women with degrees in mathematics began to be hired for these positions. Many of them came from nearby HBCUs such as Hampton University and Virginia State University.

Black computers were segregated to the “West Area” while white computers worked in the “East Area’, often with no knowledge of the black women working in the West. The East and West areas were a mile apart.

The West Area Computers were at the heart of the center’s advancements. They worked through equations that described every function of the plane, running the numbers often with no sense of the greater mission of the project. They contributed to the ever-changing design of a menagerie of wartime flying machines, making them faster, safer, and more aerodynamic.

The work of a computer required skill and judgment. Computers gathered data by reading pressure values from manometers placed in the wind tunnel. Depending on the application, the data were smoothed, plotted, and interpolated. Data reduction and analysis were carried out with the help of calculators, slide rules, planimeters, drafting tools, and other instruments. The women in these roles knew how to organize computational work and how to do so quickly without making mistakes. This knowledge was unique to them.

The West Area was constructed in 1940. The West Area cafeteria, Building #21 had opposite entrances for the Colored Dining Room and the White Dining Room. The buildings that the West Area computers worked in did not have bathrooms at all, and you had to go to the dining room to go to the bathroom.

Computers were assigned to different projects in different buildings. In the event that the workload was too heavy for the white computers, black computers would join the team. However, in general, the West Area Computers worked on the less interesting, more tedious work. The West Area Computers who were assigned to teams were generally respected. Jackson remembers doing calculations on a Supersonic Tunnel. On one occasion an engineer disputed her calculations. When she pushed back, he realized that he had given her the wrong data. And apologized.

As the years passed and the center evolved, the West Area Computers became engineers, (electronic) computer programmers, the first black managers at Langley and trajectory whizzes whose work propelled the first American, John Glenn, into orbit in 1962.

Being a West Area computer was a unique opportunity, and well paying. White and black computers earned similar wages, even though they were 40% less than what the men were paid. Their wages of $1400-$2000/year were nearly double what a school teacher could earn in the 1940’s.

When Margot Lee Shetterly decided to write her book, “Hidden Figures”, it was born of the knowledge that the West Area Computers existed, but it was so downplayed that there was barely any trace of them by the time she began her research, in part because many of them only stayed a few years and then left to raise families. As a child, Shetterly knew these brilliant mathematicians as her girl scout troop leaders, Sunday school teachers, next-door neighbors and as parents of schoolmates  The most well-known computers are the ones who stayed:

Mary Jackson, born in 1921, had both a Math and Physical Science degree from Hampton Institute. Hired as a computer in 1951, she was involved with wind tunnels and flight experiments. Her job was to extract the relevant data from experiments and flight tests. After two years in the computing pool, Mary Jackson received an offer to work for engineer Kazimierz Czarnecki in the 4-foot by 4-foot Supersonic Pressure Tunnel, a 60,000 horsepower wind tunnel capable of blasting models with winds approaching twice the speed of sound. Czarnecki offered Mary hands-on experience conducting experiments in the facility, and eventually suggested that she enter a training program that would allow her to earn a promotion from mathematician to engineer. Trainees had to take graduate level math and physics in after-work courses managed by the University of Virginia. Because the classes were held at then-segregated Hampton High School, however, Mary needed special permission from the City of Hampton to join her white peers in the classroom. Never one to flinch in the face of a challenge, Mary completed the courses, earned the promotion, and in 1958 became NASA’s first black female engineer. That same year, she co-authored her first report, Effects of Nose Angle and Mach Number on Transition on Cones at Supersonic Speeds. In 1979, seeing that the glass ceiling was the rule rather than the exception for the center’s female professionals, she made a final, dramatic career change, leaving engineering and taking a demotion to fill the open position of Langley’s Federal Women’s Program Manager. There, she worked hard to impact the hiring and promotion of the next generation of all of NASA’s female mathematicians, engineers and scientists.

Katherine Johnson, born in 1918, graduated from high school at age 13 and from West Virginia State College at 18. In 1953, Johnson joined West Area Computers. She began her career working with data from flight tests, but her life quickly changed after the Soviet Union launched the first satellite in 1957. Johnson joined the Maneuver Loads Branch of the Flight Research Division. There she analyzed data from flight tests. In 1960, she became the first woman in the division to receive author credit on a paper titled “Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite over a Selected Earth Position.” Some of her math equations were used in a lecture series compendium called Notes on Space Technology. These lectures were given by engineers that later formed the Space Task Group, NACA’s section on space travel. For the Mercury missions, Johnson did trajectory analysis for Shepard’s Freedom 7 mission in 1961, and (at John Glenn’s request) did the same job for his orbital mission in 1962. Despite Glenn’s trajectory being planned by computers, Glenn reportedly wanted Johnson herself to run through the equations to make sure they were safe.


Dorothy Vaughn, born in 1910, joined Langley in 1943. Vaughan became the first black NACA supervisor in 1949 and made sure that her employees received promotions or pay raises if merited. The Section Head title gave Dorothy rare centerwide visibility, and she collaborated with other computers on projects such as compiling a handbook for algebraic methods for calculating machines. Vaughan was a steadfast advocate for the women of West Computing, and even intervened on behalf of white computers in other groups who deserved promotions or pay raises. Engineers valued her recommendations as to the best “girls” for a particular project, and for challenging assignments they often requested that she personally handle the work.  Her segregation was ended in 1958 when NACA became NASA, at which point NASA created an analysis and computation division. Vaughan was an expert programmer in FORTRAN, a prominent computer language of the day, and also contributed to a satellite-launching rocket called Scout (Solid Controlled Orbital Utility Test). She retired from NASA in 1971.


Mechanical engineer Christine Darden was hired as a computer in 1967. She entered Hampton Institute when she was only 15 and majored in education because of the lack of prospects of finding a job in mathematics for an African American woman. Later, she would take study physics and mathematics at Virginia State College, and earn an M.S. in mathematics in 1967. In the 1970s, electronic computers were being introduced on a wider scale. Darden was one of the first people that worked on developing computer programs. She also asserted herself and entered the engineering world, researching sonic boom minimization. In 1983, she received her Ph.D. in engineering. By the time she retired, in 2007, she had authored more than 50 papers on supersonic boom and aircraft design, and reached the senior executive level at NASA – the first African American to do so.

Kathryn Peddrew, born in 1922, was a chemistry major who applied to NACA but was moved into the computing division when they saw that she was black. She eventually conducted research on balance at NASA from 1943-1986 in the Instrument Research Division.


Annie Easley, born in 1933, started out as a computer at the Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. Hired in 1955, she became a programmer when computers became machines, honing her skills in programming languages like FORTRAN and SOAP. In the 1970s, as well as daring to wear trousers to work, she made another radical choice and went back to college. She had joined NACA with just two years of pharmacy coursework on her resume. She completed a mathematics degree in 1977 while working 40-hour weeks. Over the years, Easley produced code that went on to be used in renewable energy research, including batteries for early hybrid vehicles, as well as for the high-thrust liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen Centaur rocket used to get space capsules into orbit.

Miriam Mann started work as a Langley computer in 1943, thinking she would stay only as long as the war effort required her. But the war came and went, and Mann stayed – unlike the sign in  the cafeteria. It read “Colored Computers” and relegated the black women of West Computing to a lone rear table. For Mann, this was too much. She took the sign away. Although a replacement materialized before long, the little rebellion shook up the department. She was still at Langley when the first electronic computers were installed, and when West Computing was disbanded, she partnered with an engineer working on the mechanics of space docking maneuvers. She stayed until 1966, when her health failed her. And although by then the “Colored Computers” sign was long gone, Mann’s story was passed down through her family and through the other women of West Area Computing: a story to inspire and empower.

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Black History Month #3 – The Manhattan Project


The discovery of nuclear fission by German chemists in 1938, and its theoretical explanation made the development of an atomic bomb a theoretical possibility. In a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt in August 1939, a number of prominent physicists including Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard, warned of Nazi Germany’s efforts to produce “extremely powerful bombs of a new type,” and urged the United States government to engage in research that would produce the weapon first.  The Roosevelt Administration heeded the warning and on October 9, 1941, President Roosevelt approved a crash research program to build an atomic bomb in a program which was often referred to as the Manhattan Project. Approximately 130,000 Americans worked on the project with the vast majority serving as construction workers and plant operators at newly created communities such as Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Hanford, Washington.  Drawing on natural resources from around the world including critically important uranium from the Belgian Congo, scientists and technicians, plant operators, military personnel, and construction workers labored around the clock in secrecy to complete the project and build this weapon of mass destruction before Nazi Germany completed its own atomic bomb.  Much of the initial research on the U.S. bomb was done in existing laboratory facilities at major universities including Columbia, Princeton, and the largest of the atomic research centers, the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago. In 1941, Executive Order 8802 was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 25, 1941, to prohibit ethnic or racial discrimination in the federal government. African-Americans flocked to the manufacturing sites of the Manhattan Project as construction workers, laborers, janitors and domestic workers because government jobs paid so well. Over 5,000 African Americans worked in Hanford; over 7,000 worked in Oak Ridge. But they encountered horrific discrimination when it came to housing and basic sustenance. It was a trade-off that many chose to bear.

Although there were very few black scientists and technicians working on the Manhattan project, we were a part of it. I will highlight EIGHTEEN of them, including two women, here.

  1. Ernest Wilkins was born in 1923. Wilkins entered the University of Chicago in 1936 at the age of 13, becoming one of the youngest students to ever attend the university. After completing his Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics at 17, he continued his academic studies, receiving a Master’s degree the next year. In 1942, at the age of 19, Wilkins became the seventh African American to obtain a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the university. After graduation, Wilkins taught mathematics at the Tuskegee Institute before joining the University of Chicago Met Lab in 1944. Working in collaboration with Arthur Compton and Enrico Fermi, Wilkins researched methods for producing fissionable nuclear materials, focusing in particular on plutonium-239. He did not learn the purpose of his research until the atomic bomb was dropped over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. After the war, Wilkins worked as a mathematician for the American Optical Company in Buffalo, New York designing and testing optical techniques for microscopes, telescopes, and other ophthalmologic uses. He also continued his academic pursuits and earned both a BA and MA degree in mechanical engineering from New York University. In 1970, Wilkins became the Distinguished Professor of Applied Mathematical Physics at Howard University, where he founded the university’s Ph.D. program in mathematics.


  1. Lawrence A. Knox was born in 1906. Knox attended Bates College in Lewiston, Maine for his undergraduate schooling.  He majored in chemistry and played on the school football team.  He graduated in 1928 and began teaching chemistry at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.  After teaching at Morehouse for two years, Knox attended Stanford and in 1931 attained his Master’s degree. Knox then began teaching at the Agriculture and Technical College of North Carolina in Greensboro, and in 1933 he transferred to North Carolina College for Negroes in Durham.  In 1936 he took another break from teaching and began working for his doctorate at Harvard.  In 1940 he achieved a PhD in organic Chemistry and went back to teaching at North Carolina College.   In 1944 he left his job at North Carolina College to contribute to the research of quinine (used today to treat malaria) for the Division of War Research.  Knox’s work on quinine was meant to be used in the Manhattan project for field research on the effects of atomic bomb explosions.  Knox remained at Columbia University in New York until the end of the war in 1945. With the end of his time at Columbia University, Knox became a research chemist for Nopco Chemists in Harrison, New Jersey.  In his three years there he was granted at least four patents.  In 1948 became the Resident Director at the Hickrill Chemical Research Foundation in Katonah, New York and remained in that post until the foundation folded in the late 1950s.


  1. William Jacob Knox, brother of Lawrence Knox, was born in 1904. Knox attended Harvard University, graduating in 1925. Knox earned his Master’s degree and his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1929 and 1935 respectively.  From 1935 to 1942, Knox was a professor in the chemistry department at North Carolina A&T College.  He left in 1942 to become chair of the chemistry department at Talladega College.  One year later, however, he joined a team of scientists at Columbia University who were devising a way to separate the two uranium isotopes using gaseous diffusion, a complex process that made use of uranium hexafluoride, an extremely corrosive material.  Knox also holds the distinction of being the only black supervisor on the project. Because of his work on corrosive substances, he was hired as a research scientist for Eastman Kodak in Rochester, New York in 1945.  During his time at Kodak he received patents at a rate of nearly one per year, totaling 21 patents in 25 years.   Knox retired from Kodak in 1970.  Knox briefly returned to teaching at North Carolina A&T, remaining there until his permanent retirement in 1973.
  2. Samuel Proctor Massie was born in 1919. Massie graduated from Dunbar High School in Little Rock at the age of 13.  At age 18, he earned his bachelor’s in science in chemistry and was summa cum laude from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in 1937.  He earned his master’s degree in chemistry from Fisk University in Nashville in 1940 when he was 21 years old and went on to complete his Ph.D. at Iowa State University. As he neared the completion of his doctorate in 1942, Massie lost his draft deferment.  When he was about to be drafted in his home state of Arkansas, his major professor at Iowa State, Henry Gilman, who was already working on the Manhattan Project, assigned Massie to his research team. Massie performed research at Iowa State University’s Ames Laboratory in the development of uranium isotopes from 1942-1946. After the war, Massie finished his doctorate and went on to teach chemistry at Langston University in Oklahoma, where he became the chemistry department chair. He later taught in and chaired the chemistry department at Fisk University, too, and served as an associate program director at the National Science Foundation. Massie served as the president of North Carolina College, and in 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him as the first African-American professor to serve at the United States Naval Academy.  Samuel Proctor Massie is noted for his work on drugs to combat cancer, mental diseases, malaria, meningitis, and herpes.  He received a patent for work he did combating gonorrhea. In his honor, the Department of Energy created the Samuel P. Massie Chairs of Excellence program for African-American students in 1993.


  1. Moddie Daniel Taylor was born in 1912, and attended Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri where he majored in chemistry.  Taylor graduated in 1935 as the valedictorian of his class. Taylor began his teaching career at Lincoln University the same year, working as an instructor until 1939 and then as an assistant professor from 1939 to 1941 while enrolled in the University of Chicago graduate program in chemistry.  He received an M.S. from the University in 1939 and a Ph.D. in 1943. Taylor went to work on the Manhattan Project in 1945 at the University of Chicago.  His worked as an associate chemist for the project for the next two years, involved in analyzing rare earth metals, elements of which are the products of oxidized metals and have special properties and important industrial uses.  His contributions to the project earned him a Certificate of Merit from Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson in 1946. In 1946 Taylor returned to Lincoln University for two years before becoming a chemistry professor at Howard University and the chair of the department in 1969.  His research at Howard included the study of the vapor phase of dissociation of some carboxylic acids, which resulted in a grant in 1956 from the American Academy of Arts and Science. In 1960, Taylor’s textbook, First Principles of Chemistry, was published.   It soon became one of the major texts in use in colleges and universities throughout the United States.


  1. Sherman Carter was born in 1911. in 1936 Carter began his studies at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania where he majored in biology. After graduation in 1940 Carter attended Columbia University’s Teachers College as well as the College of the City of New York. In 1943 Carter was hired at Columbia University in New York to work in tandem with the University of Chicago studying nuclear fission. This project was set up by the Army Corps of Engineers as part of the famed Manhattan Project that produced the first atomic bomb.  While at Columbia, Carter worked for Isidor Isaac Rabi, who led the Columbia group of scientists.  That group included William and Lawrence Knox. After the end of the Manhattan Project, Carter and his family remained in Harlem.


  1. Harold Delaney was born in 1919. Delaney studied chemistry at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and earned his B.S. and M.A. degrees in 1941 and 1943, respectively. After completing his M.A. degree, Delaney worked as a chemist on the Manhattan Project between 1943 and 1945 at the University of Chicago. After his appointment at the University of Chicago ended in 1945, Delaney worked as an assistant professor of chemistry at North Carolina Agricultural &Technical University in Greensboro, North Carolina from 1945 to 1948. He later returned to Howard University to complete his doctoral degree and became one of the first two graduate students to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1958 from Howard. Delaney held several academic and industrial positions over his career, including serving as a faculty member at Morgan State University in Baltimore for 21 years (1948-1969) and working as a research chemist at E.I. Dupont de Nemours & Co for three years (1966-1969).



  1. Harold Evans was born in 1907. Evans attended Michigan State University for his undergraduate degree beginning in 1927; he majored in applied science and graduated in 1931. In 1932 he received his master’s degree in science from Michigan State, with his thesis on the Benzylation of Thymol, a chemical process. After graduating, he taught chemistry at Georgia State Normal College (now Georgia College) for the 1935-1936 school year. Evans held a series of odd jobs between 1936 and 1941 when he moved to Illinois and was hired by the federal government’s Kankakee Ordnance Works (otherwise known as Illinois Ordnance Works).  He stayed there until 1943 working as a chemist on projects designed to support Great Britain until the U.S. officially entered World War II. From 1941 to 1943 he worked on U.S. military projects. In 1943 Evans was hired as an associate chemist at the University of Chicago’s Metallurgical Lab, which after World War II evolved into the Argonne National Laboratory. While with the Met Lab, Evans worked on nuclear fission projects. Evans continued to work at Argonne well after the end of World War II, researching chemical reactions and relations including those specifically pertaining to radioactive elements. He remained with Argonne until his retirement.


  1. Ralph Garner-Chavis was born in 1922. He began college at the Case School of Applied Science in 1939 which later became part of Case Western Reserve University.  Gardner was unimpressed with the school and transferred to the University of California, Berkley before finally graduating from the University of Illinois with a degree in Chemistry in 1943. After earning his degree, Gardner-Chavis began work on the Manhattan Project as a research assistant at the University of Chicago’s Met Lab. He worked closely with atomic scientist Enrico Fermi and radioactivity scientist Nathan Sugarman, focusing primarily on classified plutonium research critical to the development of the “Fat Man” implosion bomb. After he left the Project in 1947, despite his contributions to atomic research and development, Gardner-Chavis was unable to find an academic or professional position in his field, so he worked as a waiter for two years. In 1949, he became a research chemist and project leader for Standard Oil Company in Cleveland, Ohio where he designed chemical processes to refine gasoline for nearly twenty years. He simultaneously earned a Masters and Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University. Gardner-Chavis went on to lead Cleveland State University’s Chemistry Department, where he taught full-time from 1968 to 1985.


  1. Jasper Brown Jeffries Born in 1912, Jeffries earned his B.S. degree in 1933 from HBCU West Virginia State College. After earning his B.S. degree, Jeffries briefly attended the University of Illinois (1933-35). He later earned his M.S. degree in physical sciences from the University of Chicago in 1940. After completing his M.S. degree, Jeffries worked as a physicist at the Metallurgical Laboratory between 1943 and 1946 at the University of Chicago. Jeffries held several academic and industrial positions after his appointment on the Manhattan Project. From 1946 to 1949, he served as a Professor and Chair in the Department of Physics at North Carolina Agricultural &Technical University in Greensboro, North Carolina, joining his colleague Delaney who was a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry at this time. For almost a decade, Jeffries worked as a Senior Engineer for the Control Instrument Company (1951-59) located in New York. From 1963 to 1971, Jeffries worked as an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Westchester Community College in Valhalla, N.Y. In 1971, Jeffries was promoted to Professor and became Chair of the department.


  1. Lloyd Albert Quarterman Born in 1918, Quarterman attended St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, North Carolina where he developed a reputation as a scholar and star football player.  After receiving his bachelor’s degree from St. Augustine’s in 1943, he was recruited to work on the Manhattan Project.  Though he was only a junior chemist on the project, Quarterman had the opportunity to work closely with Enrico Fermi at the University of Chicago and with Albert Einstein at Columbia University. Quarterman was a member of the team of scientists who isolated the isotope of uranium (U 238) necessary for the fission process, which was essential to the creation of the atom bomb.  Once the war ended, he continued to work at the University of Chicago’s laboratory hidden beneath the campus football stadium during the war and later rebuilt in a Chicago suburb and renamed the Argonne National Laboratory.  After the war, Quarterman returned to school and earned a master of science from Northwestern University in 1952. He would return to Argonne and remain at the national laboratory for the next thirty years.



  1. Robert  Johnson Omohundro was born in 1921. Omohundro earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s in physics from Howard University. After graduation he worked as a radio tester with the Western Electric Company. Omohundro’s contribution to the atom bomb project was his work as a mass spectroscopist.  Mass spectrometry (MS) is a common technique that scientists use to help identify particles in samples by their mass. During World War II Omohundro, who worked at a secret facility in Arizona, was also responsible for developing devices to locate and measure radiation emissions from atomic warheads. These devices were used long after World War II by the International Atomic Energy Agency in airports around the world to detect clandestine transfers of fissionable material and portable neutron detectors. From1948 to 1984, Omohundro applied the techniques of nuclear physics honed during his work on the Manhattan Project to developing technology at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC.  He was noted for his development of devices that prevent the propagation of plutonium at airfields.  In addition, he continued his World War II research by designing more advanced devices for radiation detection from nuclear warheads.  In 1963 and 1971, he obtained two patents in the field of nuclear physics.


  1. Edwin Roberts Russell was born in 1913; Russell earned his B.S. degree in 1935 from HBCU Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina. Russell continued his education at Howard University where he earned an M.S. degree in chemistry in 1937.  Russell worked as an instructor in the Chemistry Department at Howard University from 1936 to 1942 before entering the University of Chicago to pursue a Ph.D. in surface chemistry. Russell arrived at the moment the University became the center for Manhattan Project research.  For the next five years (1942-1947), Russell worked as a chemist at the University of Chicago’s Metallurgical Laboratory. Russell became one of the scientists directly involved in the production of atomic energy. His efforts focused on isolating plutonium from uranium, a painstakingly slow process which was necessary to build the atomic bomb. After World War II, Russell served as Chair and Professor of the Division of Science at Allen University in Columbia South Carolina from 1947 to 1953.  He then was employed as a Research Chemist at E.I. DuPont’s Savannah River Nuclear Laboratory in Aiken, South Carolina from 1953 to 1976. While working at DuPont, Russell focused on a number of projects including the treatment of radioactive waste and wrote several classified publications in the field of nuclear energy.


  1. Benjamin Franklin Scott was born in 1922. Scott earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1942 from HBCU Morehouse College. Scott continued his education at the University of Chicago where he earned a Master of Science degree in 1950. Between the years of 1943-1946, Scott worked as a chemist at the University of Chicago’s Metallurgical Laboratory. Scott held numerous positions after his appointment, including working as a subcontractor and manufacturer of Geiger counters from 1946-50 while finishing his master’s degree at the University of Chicago. Scott worked as a Radio-chemist and later Chief Chemist for the Nuclear Instrument Company (1949-63). The Nuclear Instrument Company was renamed the Nuclear-Chicago Corporation (Chicago, Illinois) in 1954. In 1963, Scott began working as a Technical Director for the New England Nuclear (NEN) Assay Corporation


  1. James Forde was born in 1927. He was a lab assistant at the Nash Garage Building at Columbia University during the Manhattan Project. Forde was hired onto the project in 1944 by the Union Carbide and Carbon Company to clean test tubes as scientists worked to develop the gaseous diffusion process. He remembered, “You did clean-up work, you cleaned the beakers and other materials the scientists used. The main job I had was cleaning tubes in a sulfuric acid bath. I did not know what they were for…[When] I saw the headline where we had dropped the bomb, I said, ‘Oh, my God. That is what I was working on!’” He was laid off after the war, while the white scientists working in the building were transferred to Los Alamos, New Mexico. He went to Brooklyn College and began working at the Columbia Broadcasting System, later earning his master’s degree in public administration. He served as the director of health services for San Diego County and worked with several local organizations to improve minority and low-income health care.


  1. Blanche Lawrence worked as a research assistant in the Chicago Met Lab’s health division. Lawrence received her bachelor’s degree from Tuskegee University. She was the widow of Tuskegee Airman Capt. Erwin Lawrence of the 99th Pursuit Squadron, who died on a strafing mission over an enemy airfield near Athens, Greece. After the war, she continued to serve the country as a technician at Argonne National Laboratory. She became a junior biochemist within four years of beginning work there.



  1. Carolyn Beatrice Parker was born in 1917. Parker earned her bachelor’s degree from Fisk University in 1938 and went on to receive her master’s in mathematics from the University of Michigan before joining the Manhattan Project in Dayton, Ohio. Parker worked as a physicist on the Dayton Project, which was a part of the Manhattan Project. The Dayton Project was a research and development project to produce polonium during World War II, as part of the larger Manhattan Project. Her work involved polonium separation used for the detonation of the bomb. She earned a second master’s degree in physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology after the war.  She is the first African-American woman known to have gained a postgraduate degree in physics. Parker died of leukemia at age 47 while working toward her doctorate. In 2008, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health determined the disease was an occupational risk of working with polonium.


  1. George Warren Reed was born in 1920; Reed received a BS degree from Howard University in 1942 and two years later an M.S. Both degrees were in chemistry.   At the Chicago Met Lab, Reed worked on obtaining enough fissionable uranium to produce and sustain a nuclear reaction. “We didn’t know it at the time, but we were developing the atomic bomb,” he said. “I was trained as an organic chemist and we were purifying uranium, but at that time I was totally in the dark; we didn’t even talk to the people in the lab next to us.” His post-Manhattan project research continued in this area where he examined distinct patterns in radiation produced from uranium and plutonium at various stages. He completed his PhD at the University of Chicago in Illinois in 1952, after his work with the Manhattan Project. After World War II, Reed held a number of positions and worked, for some time, outside of nuclear chemistry, most notably during his tenure with the Meteoritical Society from 1970 to 1972.  He was also on the lunar sample planning team with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) from 1972 to 1980. After the first moon landing Reed was given the opportunity to analyze the sample of moon rock in a nuclear reactor; he eventually concluded that the rock contained minerals not found on earth. Reed never strayed too far from the University of Chicago however, as he held positions in the chemistry division with the Argonne National Laboratory; a scientific research subsidiary of the university, first as an associate chemist from 1952 to 1968 and eventually as a senior scientist beginning in 1968.

I am especially proud to know that so many of us were a part of this massive undertaking which, along with the race for space, was one of the most research intensive projects that the US had ever undertaken. A lot of people don’t know much about the Manhattan Project because it was classified. But I hope you have learned a bit more about the US efforts during WWII.

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Black History Month 2019 – #2: STEM in the 20th Century

The Civil War ended in 1865, so this next group of eleven STEM superstars were primarily all born free. Crops of freedman schools opened up throughout the South following the Civil War, followed by the Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Some of our superstars, educated in white schools in the North, taught at these universities. Others blazed their own trails in private industry.

  1. George Washington Carver is well known as the Tuskegee Institute scientist who found over 100 uses for peanuts (but not peanut butter). There was much more to him than that. Carver was born a slave on an unknown date before the Civil War ended. Throughout his early life, people were struck by his determination to learn and encouraged him to pursue an education. Rejected from a Kansas University for his race, he settled onto a homestead for several years, but then went to Iowa State University for his bachelors and masters in botany. In 1891Booker T. Washington recruited Carver as head of the agriculture department at Tuskegee Institute where Carver stayed for 47 years. Carver taught methods of crop rotation, introduced several alternative cash crops for farmers that would also improve the soil of areas heavily cultivated in cotton, initiated research into crop products (chemurgy), and taught generations of black students farming techniques for self-sufficiency. Carver designed a mobile classroom to take education out to farmers. He called it a “Jesup wagon” after the New York financier and philanthropist Morris Ketchum Jesup, who provided funding to support the program. Carver’s work attracted world-wide renown. In 1916, Carver was made a member of the Royal Society of Arts in England, one of only a handful of Americans at that time to receive this honor. 1n 1921, when China was undercutting peanut prices, Carver was asked to speak before Congress on the need for tariffs. The Fordney-McCumber Tariff of 1922 was passed including one on imported peanuts. Carver’s testifying to Congress made him widely known as a public figure. During the last two decades of his life, Carver seemed to enjoy his celebrity status. He was often on the road promoting Tuskegee University, peanuts, and racial harmony. Although he only published six agricultural bulletins after 1922, he published articles in peanut industry journals and wrote a syndicated newspaper column, “Professor Carver’s Advice”. Business leaders came to seek his help, and he often responded with free advice. Three American presidents—Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge and Franklin Roosevelt—met with him, and the Crown Prince of Sweden studied with him for three weeks. In 1937, Carver attended two chemurgy conferences, an emerging field in the 1930s, during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, concerned with developing new products from crops. He was invited by Henry Ford to speak at the conference held in Dearborn, Michigan, and they developed a friendship. That year Carver’s health declined, and Ford later installed an elevator at the Tuskegee dormitory where Carver lived, so that the elderly man would not have to climb stairs. Upon returning home one day, Carver took a bad fall down a flight of stairs; he was found unconscious by a maid who took him to a hospital. Carver died January 5, 1943, at the age of 78 from complications (anemia) resulting from this fall.
  2. Charles Henry Turner was a zoologist, born two years after the end of the Civil War in 1867, in Cincinnati, OH. After graduating from high school as class valedictorian, he attended the University of Cincinnati for his bachelors and master’s degrees in biology. He taught at the HBCU Clark College in Atlanta, GA for 12 years, and then went back to school. He was the first African-American to receive a PhD in Zoology from the University of Chicago in 1907. Although he spent the rest of his career teaching at a high school in Missouri, he published more than 40 research papers. He pioneered research techniques in the study of animal behavior and made several important discoveries that advanced our understanding of the natural world. Among his most notable achievements, Turner was the first person to discover that insects can hear and alter behavior based on previous experience. He showed that insects were capable of learning, illustrating (in two of his most famous research projects) that honey bees can see in color and recognize patterns. Turner died of heart failure in 1923
  3. William Hunter Dammond, born in 1873, is not well known, but he was the first African-American graduate of the Western University of Pennsylvania (which later became the University of Pittsburgh). Dammond graduated with honors from the university in 1893, with a degree in civil engineering. After assorted professional adventures, Dammond moved to Michigan to work as a bridge engineer. Once there, he hit his stride, inventing an electrical signaling system for railway engineers to recognize the approach of another train and receiving a patent for it. In 1906, he was issued another patent for a “safety system” for railway operation.
  4. Garrett Morgan was born in Kentucky in 1877, the son of slaves. He worked as a handyman as a teenager and by 1895 was busy repairing sewing machines, figuring out how things worked, and how to fix them. In 1907 Morgan opened a sewing machine and shoe repair shop. By 1910 he started inventing things. In 1916, he won fame from rescuing workers trapped in a water intake tunnel using a smoke hood that he invented and patented in 1912. It was fashioned to protect his eyes from smoke and featuring a series of air tubes that hung near the ground to draw clean air beneath the rising smoke. Meanwhile, he had his own company for hair care products including his patented hair straightening cream, a hair coloring, and a hair straightening comb. In 1922, he filed a patent for a traffic control device with a third warning light. Morgan sold the rights to General Electric for $40,000.  Morgan was also an activist. In 1908, he co-founded the Cleveland Association of Colored Men, a group with the mission of improving economic and social conditions within the African American community. He was a member of the NAACP and donated money to Historically Black Colleges and Universities colleges. In 1920, founded the Cleveland Call, a weekly newspaper and, in 1938, subsequently participated in its merger that created the Cleveland Call and Post , which still exists today.  Last, Morgan was a member of the Prince Hall Freemasons.
  5. Richard Spikes was born in the Indian Territory which became Oklahoma in 1878. Very little is known about him except his patents. Over the course of his lifetime, Spikes developed numerous inventions or innovations including:
  • railroad semaphore (1906)
  • beer keg tap (1910)
  • self-locking rack for billiard cues (1910)
  • automatic car washer (1913)
  • automobile directional signals (1913)
  • continuous contact trolley pole (1919)
  • combination milk bottle opener and cover (1926)
  • method and apparatus for obtaining average samples and temperature of tank liquids (1931)
  • automatic gear shift (1932)
  • transmission and shifting thereof (1933)
  • automatic shoe shine chair (1939)
  • multiple barrel machine gun (1940)
  • horizontally swinging barber chair (1950)
  • automatic safety brake (1962)

Of all these innovations, the best-known are those related to automotive technology. Spikes’ gear shifting device aimed to keep the gears for various speeds in constant mesh, enhancing the turn-of-the-century invention of the automatic transmission. His automatic brake safety system was also significant; according to the patent application, it provided provide a reserve braking action in case of damage to the normal braking means and is still used in some buses as a fail-safe means of stopping the vehicle. Spikes inventions were welcome to major companies. His beer keg tap was purchased by Milwaukee Brewing Company and the automobile directional signals which were first introduced in the Pierce Arrow soon became standard in all automobiles. For his innovative designs of transmission and gear-shifting devices, Spikes received over $100,000.00 – an enormous sum for a Black man in the 1930s.

6. George Biddle Kelley was born in 1884 in Troy, NY. Kelley attended the Troy Military Academy, a military preparatory school. He studied at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute before entering the College of Civil Engineering at Cornell University in 1905, where he graduated in 1908.  He became the first African-American engineer registered in the state of New York. Among other endeavors, he was employed by the New York Engineering Department, where he worked on the Barge Canal, a collection of state waterways, during the 1920s. The accomplished engineer dedicated to furthering education in young people has another important credit to his name: He was a founding member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the oldest black Greek fraternal organization.

7. Earnest Everett Just was born in Charleston, SC in 1883. At the age of 16, Just enrolled at the Meriden, New Hampshire, college-preparatory high school Kimball Union Academy,  completing the four-year program in only three years and graduating in 1903 with the highest grades in his class.Just went on to graduate magna cum laude from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.Just won special honors in zoology, and distinguished himself in botany, history, and sociology as well. He was also honored as a Rufus Choate scholar for two years and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.Just was also a candidate to deliver a commencement speech, but was not chosen because the faculty “decided it would be a faux pas to allow the only black in the graduating class to address the crowd of parents, alumni, and benefactors. It would have made too glaring the fact that Just had won just about every prize imaginable. Just accepted a teaching position at historically black Howard University in Washington, D.C. In 1907, Just first began teaching rhetoric and English, fields somewhat removed from his specialty. By 1909, however, he was teaching not only English but also Biology. In 1910, he was put in charge of a newly formed biology department by Howard’s president, Wilbur P. Thirkield and, in 1912, he became head of the new Department of Zoology… On November 17, 1911, Ernest Just and three Howard University students established the Omega Psi Phi fraternity on the campus of Howard. Not long after beginning his appointment at Howard, Just was introduced to Frank R. Lillie, the head of the Department of Zoology at the University of Chicago. Lillie, who was also director of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, invited Just to spend the summer of 1909 as his research assistant at the MBL. At the laboratory, Just realized that a doctorate in the sciences was key to his success and he began a program of self-study at the University of Chicago and later earned a doctorate in 1916.  After completing his doctorate Just published 50 scientific papers. Just was known at Woods Hole and beyond for his uncanny ability to coax marine invertebrate embryos to develop normally, and many sought his advice on the proper handling of marine animal eggs and embryos. He compiled a set of indices of normal development based mainly on the timing and quality of fertilization envelope separation, allowing him to predict with great certainty whether or not development would be normal for a given egg. He published two influential books, Basic Methods for Experiments on Eggs of Marine Mammals (1922) and Biology of the Cell Surface (1939). Despite his Ph.D., Just could not find work at any major American university.  He moved to Europe and continued his research in Naples, Italy.  In 1930, however, Just became the first American to be invited to conduct research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, Germany.  His research ended when the Nazis took control of Germany in 1933.  Just relocated to Paris, France to continue his research.  in 1940, the Nazis invaded the region around Paris, including Roscoff, and Just was forced to leave. He returned to the United States and Howard University. In 1941, however, he fell tragically ill with pancreatic cancer, and, by the end of October, he died. For all of you biologists out there, I give a reference to his research:

8. Alice Augusta Ball was born in 1982. After earning undergraduate degrees in pharmaceutical chemistry (1912) and pharmacy (1914) from the University of Washington, Alice Ball transferred to the College of Hawaii (now known as the University of Hawaii) and became the very first African American and the very first woman to graduate with a M.S. degree in chemistry in 1915. She was offered a teaching and research position there and became the institution’s very first woman chemistry instructor. She was only 23 years old. As a laboratory researcher, Ball worked extensively to develop a successful treatment for those suffering from Hansen’s disease (leprosy). Her research led her to create the first injectable leprosy treatment using oil from the chaulmoogra tree, which up until then, was only a moderately successful topical agent that was used in Chinese and Indian medicine. Ball successfully isolated the oil into fatty acid components of different molecular weights allowing her to manipulate the oil into a water soluble injectable form. Ball’s scientific rigor resulted in a highly successful method to alleviate leprosy symptoms, later known as the “Ball Method,” that was used on thousands of infected individuals for over thirty years until sulfone drugs were introduced. Tragically, Ball died on December 31, 1916 at the young age of 24 after complications resulting from inhaling chlorine gas in a lab teaching accident.

9. Frederick McKinley Jones was born on May 17, 1893 in Cincinnati, Ohio. As a young man, Jones began working as a mechanic’s helper at the R.C. Crothers Garage in Cincinnati.  Jones would spend much of his time observing the mechanics as they worked on cars, taking in as much information as possible.   These observations, along with an insatiable appetite for learning through reading helped Jones develop an incredible base of knowledge about automobiles and their inner workings. During World War I, Jones was a sergeant in the U.S. Army and served in France as an electrician. While serving, he rewired his camp for electricity, telephone, and telegraph service.  In 1919, after being discharged by the Army, he moved to Hallock, Minnesota where he began his study of electronics, eventually building a transmitter for a local radio station. Over the next few years he would invent more and more innovative machines.  When one of the doctors he worked for complained that he had to wait for patients to come into his office for x-ray exams, Jones created a portable x-ray machine that could be taken to the patient. Unfortunately, like many of his early inventions, Jones never thought to apply for a patent.  He watched helplessly as other men made fortunes off of their versions of the same device. Impervious, Jones began new projects including a radio transmitter, personal radio sets, and eventually motion picture devices. In 1939, Jones invented and received a patent for an automatic ticket-dispensing machine to be used at movie theaters. He later sold the patent rights to RCA. Jones formed a partnership called the U.S. Thermo Control Company, with Jones as vice president.  He was given the task of developing a device that would allow large trucks to transport perishable products without spoiling. Jones set to work and his automatic refrigeration system, the Thermo King, was born.  Eventually, he modified the original design so it could be outfitted for trains, boats, and ships. As a result, the frozen food industry was born and for the first time consumers could enjoy fresh foods from around the globe and U.S. Thermo became a multimillion-dollar company. During World War II, a need for a unit for storing blood serum for transfusions and medicines led Jones into further refrigeration research.  For this, he created an air-conditioning unit for military field hospitals and a refrigerator for military field kitchens.  As a result, may lives were saved.  A modified form of his device is still in use today. In 1944, Jones became the first African American to be elected into the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers.  During the 1950s, he was a consultant to the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Bureau of Standards.  When he died on February 21, 1961, Jones had more than sixty patents. Jones was posthumously awarded the National Medal of Technology in 1991 – the first Black inventor to ever receive such an honor.

10. David N. Crosthwait, Jr. was born in 1983 in Nashville, TN. Upon graduating from high school in Kansas City in 1908 Crosthwait received a full academic scholarship to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.  He graduated in 1913 from Purdue at the top of his class and received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.  He then took a job with C.A. Dunham Company (now Dunham-Bush, Inc.). At Dunham, Crosthwait held many positions, including director of research. He conducted innovative research, and designed the heat system for Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall. He held 119 patents—39 in the U.S. and 80 internationally—all in relation to heating, cooling and temperature regulating technology. Besides research, product development and HVAC system design, Crosthwait also advanced his field by writing articles and revising sections of several editions of American Society of Heating and Ventilation Engineers Guide. In 1969 Crosthwait retired from the Dunham Company and began teaching courses at Purdue University. Crosthwait’s accomplishments were recognized by many in his field: He won a medal from the National Technological Association in the 1930s and was made a fellow of the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers in 1971—making him the first African American to receive the honor.

11. Percy Lavon Julian was born in 1899 in Montgomery, Alabama. Growing up in the time of racist Jim Crow, among his childhood memories was finding a lynched man hanged from a tree while walking in the woods near his home. Julian attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. In 1923 he received an Austin Fellowship in Chemistry, which allowed him to attend Harvard University to obtain his M.S. However, worried that white students would resent being taught by an African-American, Harvard withdrew Julian’s teaching assistantship, making it impossible for him to complete his Ph.D. at Harvard. In 1929, while an instructor at Howard University, Julian received a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship to continue his graduate work at the University of Vienna, where he earned his Ph.D. In 1931. Julian taught at Howard University briefly, but got involved in so many scandals, most of his own making, that he had to resign. Julian was then offered a position to teach organic chemistry at DePauw University in 1932. In 1936, Glidden, offered Julian the position of director of research at Glidden’s Soya Products Division in Chicago. Julian became a pioneer in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants.He was the first to synthesize the natural product physostigmine, plus a pioneer in the industrial large-scale chemical synthesis of the human hormones progesterone and testosterone from plant sterols such as stigmasterol and sitosterol. His work laid the foundation for the steroid drug industry’s production of cortisone, other corticosteroids, and birth control pills. On December 1, 1953, Julian left Glidden after 18 years, giving up a salary of nearly $50,000 a year (equivalent to $470,000 in 2018) to found his own company, Julian Laboratories, Inc., in Franklin Park, Illinois to synthesize steroid intermediates from the wild Mexican yam. His work helped greatly reduce the cost of steroid intermediates to large multinational pharmaceutical companies, helping to significantly expand the use of several important drugs. Julian won a contract to provide Upjohn  with $2 million worth of progesterone (equivalent to $17 million today). He brought many of his best chemists, including African-Americans and women, from Glidden to his own company. He sold the company in 1961 for $2.3 million. The U.S. and Mexico facilities were purchased by Smith Kline, and Julian’s chemical plant in Guatemala was purchased by Upjohn. In 1964, Julian founded Julian Associates and Julian Research Institute, which he managed for the rest of his life. Julian received more than 130 chemical patents. He was the first African-American chemist inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, and the second African-American scientist inducted (behind David Blackwell) from any field.

So there you have it. Eleven scientists, engineers and inventors who spanned the gamut of STEM fields, fighting discrimination and racism to achieve amazing results in their fields. I had heard of Carver, Julian, Jones and Morgan, but the rest are new to me and I am thrilled that researchers have done the digging to identify them and help us expand our sense of pride in our accomplishments. And wait ‘til you see the group I come up with next time. J

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Filed under Black History Month

BHM 2018 #10: Fifty Years of Black Mayoral Leadership

The end of the month is upon us and there were a few more things I wanted to do, but did not have the energy. I wanted to do more of the Congresscritters, I wanted to look at Federal Judges. But I only have time for one more. I thought it was important to look at black mayors because of the incredible power they have wielded, affecting the lives of thousands and even millions of people. It turns out that the year 2017 marks the 50th year in which we have had black mayors in major US cities, and several articles have been written to commemorate this landmark. So, I’ve had some meat to put together a summary of this history. Enjoy.

The year 2007 marked the 40th anniversary of the election of the first black mayor of a big U.S city. Cleveland was the first with the selection of Carl Stokes as mayor in 1967. Gary, Indiana followed suit the same year with the election of Richard Hatcher, and the federal government appointed Walter Washington to become Washington, DC’s first black mayor as well. Later, Newark (Kenneth Gibson), Dayton (James McGee) and Cincinnati (Ted Berry) followed suit by 1972, and culminated with the elections of Tom Bradley (Los Angeles), Maynard Jackson (Atlanta) and Coleman Young (Detroit) in 1973. The decade that followed Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination was as tumultuous as they come for America’s largest cities. That period, well remembered by those who lived it as a time of particularly strong urban and social tensions, coincided with the downward slide in momentum of the Civil Rights Movement and the subsequent rise of the Black Power Movement. Older adults likely remember the period well: urban riots, fights over school busing, Affirmative Action battles, efforts to eliminate long-entrenched policies like blockbusting and redlining. Skyrocketing crime, heated debates on the inequity of public services, and the development of a new, rapidly expanding land called “suburbia” that was looking very appealing to a growing number of city residents.

The of the first 8 cities, Cleveland, Gary, Newark and Detroit became stigmatized in a way that few have been able to recover from. A negative narrative was developed about most of them that stuck, despite considerable efforts to dispel them. Cities that elected “first black mayors” after the Black Power Era, during a period of relative calm, were able to adapt as the political skill set grew in the African-American community. However, the Black Power Era’s near-toxic combination of heightened white racism, black disenfranchisement and disillusionment — and ill-prepared black political leadership — accelerated the downfall of these select cities.

If anyone doubts the impact of electing an African-American mayor during the racially tumultuous late ‘60s-early ‘70s era, examine the general perceptions that formed of the cities during that period and have endured ever since. Newark and Detroit, already tainted by the aftermath of urban riots, were effectively shunned by white residents after the elections of their first black mayors. Cleveland may have been headed down the same path after the election of Carl Stokes in 1967. But Stokes chose not to run for a third two-year term as mayor, leaving a wide open field. Stokes was followed by three consecutive white mayors — Ralph J. Perk, Dennis Kucinich and George Voinovich — before the election of the city’s second black mayor, Michael White, in 1990. Atlanta touted itself as the “City too busy to hate” in the ‘70s, but Maynard Jackson’s 1973 election coincided with rapid white flight out of the city, at the same time that Sun Belt migration from the north was strengthening the suburban base. In Washington, DC, black political empowerment there was often wrapped up in the controversy of federal political representation for the District. Mayors in the District were federally appointed until Walter Washington was elected mayor in 1975.

Taking a long historical view, it’s clear that the people who became first African-American mayors beginning in the late ‘60s and continuing through today held different views, developed different paths to victory and methods of governance, and had differing perceptions of their skills among their constituents. First black mayors could dependably rely on a supermajority of black votes in their favor — and an equally large supermajority of white votes against them. Mayors elected through about 1975 were often activists straight from the Civil Rights Movement, and were looking for ways to turn the movement into actual political power.

The group of black mayors that followed them, from about 1975 to 1990 or so, had more distance between them and the Civil Rights Movement and were less concerned about implementing movement politics; they were more concerned about developing the kind of coalition that could get them elected and help them win legislative victories once in office. The third group of “first black mayors”, coming after about 1990 and continuing through today generally came to terms with a different demographic landscape in most major American cities.

Of the 100 largest cities in the country, 39 have had elected black mayors. In the year 2007, Gary, Detroit, Birmingham, Baltimore, Memphis, Atlanta, Cleveland, Newark and DC, all with populations over 250,000, and all having over 50% black populations, have had black mayors. In 2002, 57.1% of black mayors served in cities that did not have a black majority population. Philadelphia, Durham and Greensboro, NC, Jacksonville, Columbus, OH, Sacramento (black population 14%) and Wichita (black population 11%) also have. Things have really changed – black politicians are building non-black coalitions. As Houston mayor, Sylvester Turner, described in his State of Black America essay, leading in this current time requires that Black mayors are “nimble and strategic in their approach to leading our cities.” Younger white residents without the racial grievances of their parents or grandparents are returning to cities, and Hispanics are rapidly increasing in numbers. Anyone who would attempt to become a “first black mayor” in that environment would have to develop an appeal that goes beyond racial boundaries.

“To be an African-American mayor leading a city in the 21st century is not about “power” but about “possibilities.” With more than 470 African-American mayors leading cities across the United States, the lens of our leadership is shaped from our own personal experiences. Together, we collectively bring a perspective that allows for a spectrum of possibilities.”

— Mayor Sylvester Turner, Houston, TX, “The Role and Obligations of African-American Mayors in the 21st Century,” State of Black America, May 2017

Wikipedia did an interesting list of “black mayoral firsts” and I thought I would share their list. You can see the huge gap between 1888 and 1964. And you can see the growing trend since 1975. In the article I read, it was interesting to note that in some cases, there was extensive gerrymandering, such that even with a black mayor, a white city council could block every turn, as could an elected white police commissioner. This needs to be a notice to us that with the 2020 Census coming up, it is critical that we have elected officials who will keep our political territories balanced, so that we can have meaningful representation.
So, here is the list.
1. First African American elected mayor of a U.S. town: Pierre Caliste Landry, Donaldsonville, Louisiana

2. First African-American mayor of Maryville, Tennessee: W. B. Scott

3. First African-American mayor of a predominantly white U.S. town, and of a Western U.S. town: Edward Duplex, Wheatland, California

4. First African-American mayor of a U.S. city: George D. Carroll, Richmond, California
5. First African-American mayor of a U.S. city: Robert C. Henry, Springfield, Ohio (appointed by city commission)
6. First African- American mayor of a U.S. city: Floyd J. McCree, Flint, Michigan

7. First Elected (1967) African-American mayor of a large U.S. city: Richard G. Hatcher, Gary, Indiana
8. First African-American mayor of a large U.S. city: Carl Stokes (Cleveland, Ohio)
9. First African American appointed mayor of Washington, D.C.: Walter Washington (see also: 1975)
10. First African American elected mayor of Ypsilanti, Michigan: John Burton

11. First African American elected Mayor of Montclair, New Jersey: Matthew G. Carter
12. First African-American mayor of a Kentucky city: Luska Twyman, Glasgow, Kentucky
13. First African American elected mayor of a predominantly white southern city: Howard Nathaniel Lee, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
14. First African American elected mayor of a Mississippi city: Charles Evers, Fayette, Mississippi

15. First African American elected mayor of Newark, New Jersey: Kenneth A. Gibson
16. First African American elected mayor of Dayton, Ohio: James H. McGee
17. First African American appointed mayor of Wichita, Kansas: A. Price Woodard
18. First African-American elected mayor of Salina, Kansas: Robert C. Caldwell

19. First African American appointed mayor of Grand Rapids, Michigan: Lyman Parks (see also: 1973)
20. First African-American mayor of Englewood, New Jersey: Walter Scott Taylor

21. First African-American mayor of Tallahassee, Florida and first African-American mayor of a state capital: James R. Ford
22. First African-American mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio: Ted Berry

23. First African American elected mayor of Detroit, Michigan: Coleman Young
24. First African American elected mayor of Raleigh, North Carolina: Clarence Lightner
25. First African American elected mayor of a major Southern city: Maynard Jackson, Atlanta, Georgia
26. First African American elected mayor of a major Western city: Tom Bradley, Los Angeles, California
27. First African-American woman mayor: Lelia Foley-Davis, Taft, Oklahoma
28. First African-American woman mayor of a major satellite city: Doris A. Davis, Compton, California
29. First African American elected mayor of Grand Rapids, Michigan: Lyman Parks (see also: 1971)

30. First African American elected mayor of Waco, Texas: Oscar Du Conge

31. First African American elected mayor, and first elected mayor, of Washington, D.C.: Walter Washington (see also: 1967)

32. First African-American mayor of Richmond, Virginia: Henry L. Marsh (Note: elected from within nine City Council members; changed to general election in 2003)

33. First African American elected mayor of Oakland, California: Lionel Wilson
34. First African American elected mayor of New Orleans: Ernest Nathan Morial
35. First African American elected mayor of Birmingham, Alabama: Richard Arrington, Jr.

36. First African American elected mayor of Camden, New Jersey: Randy Primas
37. First African American elected mayor of Spokane, Washington: James Everett Chase
38. First African American elected mayor of Plainfield, New Jersey, and first African American elected mayor in Central New Jersey: Everett C. Lattimore
39. First African-American mayor of Little Rock, Arkansas: Charles E. Bussey Jr.

40. First African American appointed mayor of Memphis, Tennessee: J.O. Patterson, Jr.

41. First African American elected Mayor of Chicago: Harold Washington
42. First African American elected mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina: Harvey Gantt
43. First African American elected Mayor of Flint: James Sharp

44. First African American elected Mayor of Atlantic City, New Jersey: James L. Usry
45. First African American elected Mayor of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Wilson Goode
46. First African American elected mayor of Portsmouth, Virginia: James W. Holley, III

47. First African American elected mayor of Mount Vernon, New York, and first African American elected mayor in New York state: Ronald Blackwood

48. First African American and first woman mayor of Newport News, Virginia: Jessie M. Rattley

49. First African American woman elected mayor of a major city Hartford, Connecticut: Carrie Saxon Perry
50. First African American appointed mayor of Baltimore, Maryland: Clarence H. Burns
51. First African American elected mayor of Tacoma, Washington: Harold Moss
52. First African American woman and first woman mayor of Little Rock, Arkansas: Lottie Shackelford

53. First African American elected mayor of Baltimore, Maryland: Kurt Schmoke
54. First African American elected mayor of Hempstead, New York: James A. Garner

55. First African American elected mayor of New York, New York: David Dinkins
56. First African American elected mayor of New Haven, Connecticut: John C. Daniels
57. First African American elected mayor of Richmond, California: George Livingston
58. First African American elected mayor of Rockford, Illinois: Charles Box
59. First African American elected mayor of Seattle, Washington: Norm Rice
60. First African American succeeds to the office of mayor of Minden, Louisiana, via recall of his predecessor: Robert T. Tobin

61. First African American elected Mayor of Trenton, New Jersey: Douglas Palmer
62. First African American elected mayor of New Bern, North Carolina: Leander R. “Lee” Morgan
63. First African American elected Mayor of Seattle, Washington: Norm Rice
64. First African-American mayor of Lynchburg, Virginia: M.W. Thornhill Jr.

65. First African American elected mayor of Memphis, Tennessee: W. W. Herenton
66. First African American elected mayor of Denver, Colorado: Wellington Webb
67. First African American elected mayor of Kansas City, Missouri: Emanuel Cleaver
68. First African American woman elected mayor of Washington, D.C.: Sharon Pratt Kellye U

69. First African American male elected mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts: Kenneth Reeves

70. First African American elected mayor of St. Louis, Missouri: Freeman Bosley, Jr.
71. First African American elected mayor of Rochester, New York: William A. Johnson, Jr.

72. First African American and first woman elected mayor of Minneapolis, Minnesota: Sharon Sayles Belton

73. First African American elected mayor of Dallas, Texas: Ron Kirk
74. First African American elected mayor of Savannah, Georgia: Floyd Adams, Jr.

75. First African American elected mayor of San Francisco, California: Willie Brown
76. First African American elected mayor of Monroe, Louisiana: Abe E. Pierce, III

77. First African American elected mayor of Jackson, Mississippi: Harvey Johnson, Jr.
78. First African American elected mayor of Houston, Texas: Lee P. Brown
79. First African American elected mayor of Des Moines, Iowa: Preston Daniels
80. First African-American mayor of Jasper, Texas: R. C. Horn
81. First African-American female elected mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts: E. Denise Simmons
82. First African-American mayor of Hopewell, Virginia: Curtis West Harris

83. First African-American mayor of Pineville, Louisiana: Clarence R. Fields (became interim mayor in 1999; was elected to a partial term in 2000 and re-elected to full terms in 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2014)

84. First African American elected mayor of Columbus, Ohio: Michael B. Coleman
85. First African American elected mayor of Selma, Alabama: James Perkins, Jr.

86. First African American elected mayor of Hattiesburg, Mississippi: Johnny DuPree
87. First African-American woman mayor of a major Southern city, and first woman to be elected mayor of Atlanta, Georgia: Shirley Franklin
88. First African American and first woman elected mayor of Southfield, Michigan: Brenda L. Lawrence
89. First African American elected mayor of Fayetteville, North Carolina: Marshall Pitts Jr.
90. First African-American female Republican elected mayor of Tchula, Mississippi: Yvonne Brown

91. First African-American woman elected mayor of Dayton, Ohio: Rhine McLin
92. First African American elected mayor of Toledo, Ohio: Jack Ford

93. First African-American elected mayor of Palm Springs, California: Ron Oden
94. First African American elected by citizens as mayor of Tallahassee, Florida: John Marks
95. First African-American elected mayor, and first elected mayor, of San Ramon, California: H. Abram Wilson

96. First African American elected mayor of Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Kip Holden
97. First African-American mayor of Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Marvin Pratt
98. First African American elected mayor of Pine Bluff, Arkansas: Carl A. Redus Jr.
99. First African American elected mayor and first African-American female mayor of Waco, Texas: Mae Jackson[32]

100. First African American elected mayor of Buffalo, New York: Byron Brown
101. First African American elected mayor of Mobile, Alabama: Sam Jones
102. First African American elected mayor of Asheville, North Carolina: Terry Bellamy
103. First African American elected mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio: Mark Mallory
104. First African American elected mayor of Youngstown, Ohio: Jay Williams
105. First African American and woman elected mayor of Greenwood, Mississippi: Sheriel F. Perkins

106. First African American elected mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana: Cedric Glover
107. First African American elected mayor of Anderson, South Carolina: Terence Roberts
108. First African American elected mayor of Killeen, Texas: Timothy Hancock

109. First African-American woman and first woman elected mayor of Baltimore, Maryland: Sheila Dixon
110. First African American elected mayor of Greensboro, North Carolina: Yvonne Johnson
111. First African American elected mayor of Wichita, Kansas: Carl Brewer
112. First African American elected mayor of South Harrison Township, New Jersey: Charles Tyson

113. First African American elected mayor of Blue Springs, Missouri: Carson Ross
114. First African American elected mayor of Lancaster, Texas: Marcus Knight
115. First African American elected mayor of Mansfield, Ohio: Donald Culliver
116. First African American elected mayor of Sacramento, California: Kevin Johnson
117. First African American mayor of Festus, Missouri: Earl Cook
118. First African-American and first woman elected mayor of Cambridge, Maryland: Victoria Jackson-Stanley

119. First African American elected mayor of Philadelphia, Mississippi: James Young
120. First African American elected mayor of Freeport, New York: Andrew Hardwick
121. First African American and first woman elected mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, and first African-American woman elected mayor in Utah: Mia Love[38]
122. First African-American woman elected mayor of Brentwood, Maryland: Xzavier Montgomery-Wright

123. First African-American woman elected mayor of Fontana, California: Acquanetta Warren
124. First African American elected mayor of Columbia, South Carolina: Stephen K. Benjamin

125. First African American elected mayor of Jacksonville, Florida: Alvin Brown
126. First African-American mayor of Knoxville, Tennessee: Daniel Brown

127. First African-American mayor of Ithaca, New York: Svante Myrick
128. First African-American mayor of Antioch, California: Wade Harper
129. First African American and first female mayor of Orrville, Alabama: Louvenia Diane Lumpkin
130. First African-American mayor of Phenix City, Alabama: Eddie Lowe
131. First African-American woman and first woman elected mayor of Gary, Indiana: Karen Freeman-Wilson

132. First African-American mayor of Plano, Texas: Harry LaRosiliere
133. First African-American mayor of Meridian, Mississippi: Percy Bland

134. First African-American mayor of Brunswick, Georgia: Cornell Harvey
135. First African-American female mayor of San Antonio, Texas: Ivy Taylor
136. First African-American woman elected mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana: Ollie Tyler
137. First African-American female Mayor of Teaneck, New Jersey, as well as the first African-American female mayor of any municipality in Bergen County, New Jersey: Lizette Parker

138. First African American and first African-American woman elected mayor of Pearsall, Texas: Mary Moore
139. First African American and first African-American woman elected mayor of Conway, South Carolina: Barbara Blain-Bellamy
140. First African American elected mayor of Camilla, Georgia: Rufus L Davis II
141. First African-American woman elected mayor of Toledo, Ohio: Paula Hicks-Hudson
142. First African-American woman and first woman elected mayor of Flint, Michigan: Karen Weaver

143. First African-American and first African-American female mayor of Midland City, Alabama: Jo Ann Bennett Grimsley
144. First AFircan American elected mayor of Norfolk, Virginia: Kenneth Alexander

145. First African American elected mayor of Stamps, Arkansas: Brenda Davis
146. First African-American woman elected mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina: Vi Lyles
147. First African American elected mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota: Melvin Carter

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BHM 2018 #9: Second Generation of Black Congressmen

Wikipedia tells us that there were 4 generations of African-Americans in the House of Representatives. The first generation served during Reconstruction from 1870-1887. Here I will present the Congressmen of the Second Generation. In my previous post, I left off James O’Hara because he didn’t really fit in the First Generation, during Reconstruction; he served after the troops had withdrawn from the South. I probably should have included him then. I am including him here.

In looking at the Second Generation, I am struck by how challenging it was to be a Republican in a Democratic-controlled Congress when nothing that you were trying to achieve had any real chance of success. The men of the Second Generation were trying to secure basic human rights for African-Americans: fighting discrimination, Black Codes and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. And at every turn, they were defeated. They also tried to secure needed infrastructure and economic gains for their districts, especially since their districts were largely African-American and largely poor. Again, no success. These men were smart, accomplished, and often great orators. Their speeches on the House floor made it into newspapers, and caused many people to take them seriously and give them respect. But they were fighting a lost cause. It was no longer politically expedient to “fight for Negro causes”.  With no support from Democrats or their fellow Republicans, the Congressmen of the Second Generation were unable to make a difference in any meaningful way. But they gave it their best effort. And deserve recognition and praise.


Second Generation:

  1. James O’Hara (R-NC) 1883-1887
  2. Henry Cheatham (R-NC) 1889-1893 – Defeated Hyman and O’Hara in the primaries
  3. John Mercer Langston (R-VA) 1890-1891
  4. Thomas Miller (R-SC) 1890-1891
  5. George Murray (R-SC) 1893-1895, 1896-1897 – Defeated Miller in the primaries
  6. George Henry White (R-NC) 1897-1901 – Defeated Cheatham in the primaries





James O’Hara (R-NC) 1883-1887

James Edward O’Hara was born February 26, 1844, in New York City, the illegitimate son of an Irish merchant and a black West Indian mother. While growing up he worked as a deckhand on ships that sailed between New York and the West Indies.  When he was eighteen O’Hara settled Halifax County, North Carolina with a group of missionaries.  Well–educated, he taught primary school to free black children in New Bern and Goldsboro, North Carolina in the 1860’s. He studied law at Howard University and passed the North Carolina Bar in 1873. From 1868 to 1869, O’Hara also served in the state house of representatives. In 1873, he was elected chairman of the Halifax County board of commissioners. O’Hara began his long quest for a seat in the U.S. Congress in 1874 when he made a bid for North Carolina’s northeastern “Black Second” district seat. O’Hara made another attempt at the “Black Second” nomination in 1878. Between congressional bids, O’Hara was active in local and national politics. By 1881, he had aligned himself with a statewide anti–Prohibition campaign and was an architect of a coalition between Liberal Democrats and North Carolina Republicans in 1882. That same year, he made his fourth attempt to gain the “Black Second” seat, bolstered by discontented local black politicians who believed they were being marginalized within the party.


During his first term O’Hara was the only African American in Congress. As part of the Republican minority in the House, O’Hara received appointments to the Mines and Mining and the Expenditures on Public Buildings committees when he arrived in Washington for the 48th Congress (1883–1885) in December 1883. He later traded his Mines and Mining position for a spot on the Invalid Pensions Committee in the 49th Congress (1885–1887). O’Hara was active on the Invalid Pensions Committee. In the first session, he introduced more than 100 committee reports, serving as an unofficial subcommittee chairman.15 O’Hara did not take the floor to make long addresses; instead, he delivered concise speeches and put forth bold legislation, often fighting for the rights he and other Black Americans had lost since the end of Reconstruction.


O’Hara was dedicated to civil rights and progress for African Americans. He was an active speaker against racial violence and introduced one of the first bills to make lynching a federal crime.  When the House considered a bill to regulate interstate commerce O’Hara introduced an amendment requiring equal accommodations for all travelers.  His amendment failed.  O’Hara also fought for the rights of women when he introduced a bill that would prohibit gender based salary discrimination in education.


Henry Cheatham (R-NC) 1889-1893


Cheatham was born into slavery in Henderson, North Carolina in 1957.  An adolescent after the American Civil War, Cheatham benefited from country’s short lived commitment to provide educational opportunities to all children.  He attended public school where he excelled in his studies.  After high school Cheatham was admitted to Shaw University, founded for the children of freedmen, graduating with honors in 1882.  He earned a masters degree from the same institution in 1887. Cheatham ran a successful campaign for the office of Registrar of Deeds at Vance County, North Carolina in 1884, and he served the county for four years.   He also studied law during his first term in office, with an eye toward national politics.


By the late 1880s, the Democratic–controlled North Carolina state legislature had tightened suffrage laws, greatly restricting black voters. Jim Crow statutes had disfranchised nearly 60 percent of the voting base in the “Black Second,” a predominantly African–American district that snaked along coastal sections of the northeastern part of the state.3 A split in the African–American vote enabled “Black Second” Democrat Furnifold Simmons, to defeat incumbent Representative James O’Hara and another black candidate, Israel Abbott, in 1886.  In 1888 Henry Cheatham ran for Congress as a Republican in North Carolina’s Second Congressional District.  Cheatham won back the “Black Second” district in eastern North Carolina, recapturing the seat formerly held by Representatives John Hyman and James O’Hara. The race was unpleasant. Unable to depend on the divided vote that aided Simmons in 1886, district Democrats used white North Carolinians’ racial fears against Cheatham.8 The black candidate fought back, warning black voters that Democrats wanted to return them to slavery.9 Cheatham defeated Simmons by a narrow 51 percent (a margin of roughly 600 votes).10 Across the state, Republicans had their best showing since 1872, claiming three of the state’s nine congressional seats.11


As a United States Congressman, Cheatham’s strong educational background  earned him an assignment on the Committee on Education. Cheatham also served on the Committee on Expenditures on Public Buildings in the 51st Congress. The North Carolina Representative was a behind–the–scenes legislator, focusing on his committee work and giving few speeches on the House Floor.14 Cheatham  supported Henry Cabot Lodge’s Federal Elections Bill sponsored by representatives who wished to end election violence against African American voters.  Although Cheatham’s efforts helped the measure pass in the House of Representatives, the Lodge bill was killed in the U.S. Senate.  Later, Cheatham sponsored an unsuccessful bill requiring Congress to appropriate funds for African American participation at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.  Cheatham wanted the fair’s visitors to see the demonstrable progress African Americans had made since the end of slavery. More effective at winning political concessions outside of the halls of Congress, Cheatham used his political clout to win federal posts for Republicans.  In all he secured over eighty jobs for members of his party.  His efforts were controversial, however, as African Americans and whites alike, complained that too many positions went to the “opposite” race.


Cheatham’s black constituents faced unraveling economic and political conditions. During his first term, the teetering economy in eastern North Carolina plunged into depression. The prices of two staple crops, cotton and corn, dropped dramatically, squeezing small farmers.18 Poor economic prospects led to a decline in the black voter base in Cheatham’s district. By 1890, many emigrated from the economically depressed Carolinas in search of better opportunities in Arkansas, Texas, and Mississippi. In an attempt to stem the flight, Cheatham returned to his district in the first month of the 51st Congress and appealed to his constituents.19 But disfranchisement laws—including rigid requirements for proving birthplace and heritage, which necessitated documentation many freedmen did not possess—further discouraged local blacks.20 African Americans urged Cheatham and his Republican colleagues from North Carolina, Representatives John Bower and Hamilton Ewart, to withdraw from the House Republican Conference to protest the party’s perceived indifference to their plight. Black Republican voters insisted Republican leaders should be reminded of their dependence on black voters in the South. A loyal adherent to his party, Cheatham refused their demand. In 1890, seeking to attract whites to his camp, Cheatham vowed to aid depressed farmers. He maintained his ties to black voters by railing against steel magnate Andrew Carnegie for hiring foreign laborers instead of blacks in his northern mills.25 Cheatham won re–election by roughly 1,000 votes, or 52 percent.26 He was the only Republican in the North Carolina delegation and the only black Member of the 52nd Congress (1891–1893). Despite an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress, Cheatham won a plum assignment to the Committee on Agriculture.27


John Mercer Langston (R-VA) 1890-1891

John Mercer Langston, the youngest of four children, was born a free black in Louisa County, Virginia in 1829. Son of a white slaveowner and an emancipated slave woman of Indian and black ancestry. Langston gained distinction as an abolitionist, politician, and attorney. At fourteen Langston began his studies at the Preparatory Department at Oberlin College. Known for its radicalism and abolitionist politics, Oberlin was the first college in the United States to admit black and white students.  Langston completed his studies in 1849, becoming the fifth African American male to graduate from Oberlin’s Collegiate Department. After two law schools denied him admission, he studied under local abolitionists in Elyria, Ohio. In September 1854, a committee on the district court confirmed his knowledge of the law, deeming him “nearer white than black,” and admitted him to the Ohio bar.  In 1855 Langston was elected town clerk of Brownhelm Township in Ohio, becoming the first black elected official in the state.  In addition to his law practice and activities as town clerk, Langston and his brothers, Gideon and Charles, participated in the Underground Railroad.


During the Civil War, Langston recruited black volunteers for the Massachusetts 54th Infantry Regiment, officially the country’s first African American military unit.  In 1868 Langston moved to Washington, D.C. to help establish the nation’s first black law school at Howard University.  He became its first dean and served briefly as acting president of Howard in 1872. In 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Langston U.S. minister to Haiti. In 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Langston U.S. minister to Haiti.  He returned to the U.S. in 1885 and became president of Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (now Virginia State University).   Settling in south–central Virginia, Langston was viewed as a celebrity by his black neighbors. In 1888, a citizen’s committee asked Langston to run for a seat in the U.S. House, representing the “Black Belt of Virginia,” a region whose population was 65 percent black Langston ran as an Independent against a white Democratic opponent.  The election results were contested for 18 months.  Langston was finally declared the winner and served the six remaining months of his term.

Langston’s experience in higher learning earned him a position on the Committee on Education.31 He immediately assisted the Republican majority by voting in favor of the controversial McKinley Tariff, a protective measure designed to drive up the price of cheap goods manufactured abroad. A Democratic newspaper commented that Langston’s position on tariffs represented “a wall about the country so high and so great that the British lion would never have been able to get over it without the aid of dynamite or a scaling ladder.”32


Returning in December 1890 as a lame duck to his first full session in Congress, Langston made his first speech on January 16, 1891. He emphasized blacks’ U.S. citizenship, condemning calls for foreign emigration and what he deemed the Democratic Party’s attempt to thwart black freedom. “Abuse us as you will, gentlemen,” Langston told Democrats, “we will increase and multiply until, instead of finding every day five hundred black babies turning their bright eyes to greet the rays of the sun, the number shall be five thousand and still go on increasing. There is no way to get rid of us. This is our native country.” Frequent, loud applause from the Republican side of the chamber interrupted Langston’s speech. Newspapers admitted that Langston’s speech rambled, but deemed him one of the most eloquent speakers on the House Floor.41 One day after his speech, Langston asked the U.S. Attorney General to send the House all documentation of suits on alleged violations of voting rights.42 The Judiciary Committee agreed to Langston’s resolution, and it was adopted in the whole House. However, the Attorney General’s office never complied, and the disfranchisement of southern freedmen continuedThomas Miller (R-SC) 1890-1891

Thomas Ezekiel Miller was born on June 17, 1849, in Ferrebeeville, South Carolina. He was raised by Richard and Mary Ferrebee Miller, both former slaves, but his fair skin color caused much speculation about his biological origins. Later in life, Miller’s apparent mixed–race heritage availed him political opportunities, but also forced him to navigate a complicated racial middle ground in the postwar South. Thomas Miller struggled his entire life to find acceptance in the black and white communities. African–American political rivals dismissed him as a white imposter attempting to take advantage of the post–Civil War black electorate. Yet, Miller, who embraced the black heritage nurtured by his adoptive parents, was also ostracized by white colleagues.3


During the Civil War, Miller delivered newspapers on a Charleston railroad line running to Savannah, Georgia. He was conscripted into the military when the Confederate Army seized the railroads. Captured by Union forces in January 1865, he spent two weeks in prison before his release. When the Civil War ended, Miller went to Hudson, New York, where once again he sold newspapers on a railroad line. He finished his education at the Hudson School, just north of New York City, before earning a scholarship to Lincoln University, a school for African–American students, in Chester County, Pennsylvania. After graduating in 1872, Miller returned to South Carolina, where he won his first elective office as school commissioner of coastal Beaufort County. He subsequently moved to Columbia and studied law at the newly integrated University of South Carolina. He continued his studies under the tutelage of state solicitor P. L. Wiggins and state supreme court justice Franklin L. Moses, Sr., a future governor of South Carolina. Admitted to the bar in December 1875, Miller set up his practice in Beaufort, South Carolina. Shortly after moving to Beaufort, Thomas Miller was elected to the state general assembly, where he served until 1880 before securing a term in the state senate.


Miller was deeply involved in attempts to revive the flagging South Carolina Republican Party after Reconstruction ended in 1877. He was a member of the Republican state executive committee from 1878 to 1880 and the state party chairman in 1884. Miller also was a customs inspector and served on the state militia throughout the 1880s before returning to the state house of representatives in 1886 for one year. In 1888, Miller entered the race for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives that was formerly occupied by black Representative and Civil War hero Robert Smalls. The “shoestring district” was thus named because its narrow borders twisted from Sumter County in the center of the state to Georgetown and parts of Charleston on the coast.6 Covering the black belt of South Carolina, including the center of the state’s pre–Civil War rice and cotton plantations, the gerrymandered district boasted a population that was 82 percent black. Facing the incumbent, Miller received financial backing from Randall D. George, one of the wealthiest black men in the state, who made his money distributing rosins and turpentine in the region.9 Representative Elliott was initially declared the winner by slightly more than 1,000 votes in a light turnout, with 54 percent to Miller’s 45 percent.10  Miller contested the election, charging that many registered black voters were prohibited from casting their ballots. He vehemently opposed the “eight box ballot law,” a state statute that required multiple ballot boxes at each polling station to confuse black voters.11 Though the Republican–dominated Committee on Elections in the 51st Congress ruled in Miller’s favor, his case did not come up on the House Floor until September 23, 1890, immediately after a vote seating Virginia’s first black Representative, John Langston. Inspired by their success seating Langston (complicated by Democrats, who deserted the House Chamber in an effort to prevent a quorum), House Republicans decided to take up Miller’s claim. The House seated Miller by a vote of 157 to 1. He was sworn in the following day and given a position on the Committee on Labor.13


South Carolina followed Mississippi in black voter disenfranchisement by enforcing the ability to read and write the Constitution or to own property worth at least $300.00, a move that directly reduced Miller’s African American support.


George Murray (R-SC) 1893-1895, 1896-1897


George Washington Murray was born on September 22, 1853, near Rembert, in Sumter County, South Carolina. in 1874 he entered the University of South Carolina in Columbia after it was opened to black students by the Republican state government.4 After federal withdrawal from the South following the end of Reconstruction in 1877, Murray and the other black students were forced out of the university. He eventually graduated from the nearby State Normal Institution. Working as a farmer, a teacher, and a lecturer in Sumter County, Murray obtained eight patents for various farming tools.6 His farming success garnered him local recognition, and his selection as the Sumter County delegate to the 1880 Republican Party state convention sparked his interest in politics.


In 1892, Murray ran for the congressional seat. Conducting a campaign that emphasized his African roots (his opponent, Thomas Miller, was light–skinned), Murray defeated Miller and white candidate E. W. Brayton to capture the Republican nomination.8 Though the “shoestring district” had been modified slightly by reapportionment, nearly 75 percent of the population was black.9 During the general election, especially in areas outside Charleston, precinct workers rejected votes for Murray for insignificant reasons, for example, the candidate’s ballots were one–eighth or three–sixteenths of an inch too short, the ballot boxes were not opened at the appointed time, or the precinct managers failed to record the name of the precinct before sending the election returns to Columbia.10 However, Murray’s chances were strengthened by divisions within the district’s Democratic Party. Canvassers for the state board of election (Democratic supporters of Governor Tillman) confirmed that Murray was victorious by 40 votes.11 He received an assignment to the Committee on Education, but most of Murray’s work in Congress was outside the jurisdiction of this committee.



Murray’s position as the only black Member during his two terms in Congress defined his career. One of the first things he did after arriving in Washington was to visit newly inaugurated Democratic President Grover Cleveland. In a personal meeting with the President, Murray told Cleveland that southern blacks were concerned about their welfare under a Democratic President but that the new administration had a fresh opportunity to welcome African Americans into the Democratic Party. Murray asked Cleveland to consider appointing more blacks to political offices through patronage, but neither the President nor his congressional allies prioritized building political capital among black Americans.12


In 1894, Murray faced an uphill battle for re–election to the 54th Congress. The South Carolina legislature dissolved the “shoestring district,” cutting off much of Charleston and Murray’s black voting base.21 Democratic infighting ceased when former Representative William Elliott won the Democratic nomination. Elliott emerged with 60 percent of the vote in the general election, but several precincts reported instances of fraud.22 Murray appealed to the state board of election canvassers, but they rejected his claim.


As a result, Murray spent the third session of the 53rd Congress (1893–1895) preparing to contest Elliott’s election before the House. He submitted a massive amount of testimony indicating election fraud; the paperwork was reported to be nearly a foot thick.23 Murray’s evidence revealed that ballot boxes in three of four heavily Republican counties in his new district were never opened, that black voters were issued fraudulent registration certificates or paperwork was withheld entirely, and that precincts in black regions failed to open. Witnesses also reported that William Elliott himself stood in front of ballot boxes taunting black men and preventing them from submitting their votes. The worst fraud occurred in the small portion of southern Charleston that remained in Murray’s district. A precinct compromising 2,000 more registered black voters than white declared 2,811 votes for Elliott and 397 for Murray.24 After reviewing the testimony, the House Committee on Elections—composed of a strong Republican majority—concluded that the final victory belonged to Murray by 434 votes.



In 1893, when Representative Henry Tucker of Virginia authored a bill to remove impartial election supervisors and federal marshals from southern polling places, Murray fearlessly sought to block the legislation.15 On several occasions, he interrupted Tucker’s allies on the House Floor, citing personal experiences of discrimination.16 On October 2, 1893, Murray interrupted freshman Representative (and future Speaker) Beauchamp (Champ) Clark of Missouri, who was insisting that state officials adequately monitored polling places. Murray noted that these officials were often prejudiced appointees of white supremacist Democratic state governments. He also refuted Clark’s claim that federal Republican officials coerced black voters into voting as one bloc. Three days later, Murray made a long speech against Representative Tucker’s legislation. He ended by repeating his plea to President Cleveland: “While I can not persuade myself that there can be found here and in the Senate enough cruel and wicked men to make this law effective, still if I am disappointed in that…I hope that the broad–souled and philanthropic man occupying the Executive chair is too brave and humane to join in this cowardly onslaught to strike down the walls impaling the last vestige of liberty to a helpless class of people.”17 A long thunderous bout of applause from the Republican side of the chamber followed Murray’s speech, which earned him the epithet the “Black Eagle of Sumter.”18

Political trouble at home prevented Murray from attending the final two sessions of the 54th Congress. In 1895, Tillman Democrats in the state legislature passed a referendum to revise the 1868 state constitution. Murray tried to organize black voters to elect sympathetic delegates to the constitutional convention, but only six black delegates were sent, including former Representatives Robert Smalls and Thomas Miller. The results were disastrous for black South Carolina voters. The primarily white, Democratic convention created new requirements for proving residency, instituted poll taxes, established property requirements, and created literacy tests—all aimed at disfranchising black voters.26


George Henry White (R-NC) 1897-1901

George White was born in 1852 in Rosindale, Bladen County, North Carolina, where his natural mother may have been a slave.[1] His father Wiley Franklin White was a free person of color, of African and Scots-Irish ancestry, who worked as a laborer in a turpentine camp. White graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1877, and was admitted to the bar in 1879.  White practiced law and served as the Principal of the State Normal School of North Carolina until he entered politics . In 1880 White ran as a Republican candidate from New Bern and was elected to a single term in the North Carolina House of Representatives. He helped pass a law creating four state normal schools for African Americans in order to train more teachers, and was appointed in 1881 as the principal of one of the schools in New Bern. He helped develop the school in its early years and encourage students to go into teaching.


In 1884 White returned to politics, winning election to the North Carolina Senate from Craven County. In 1886, he was elected solicitor and prosecuting attorney for the second judicial district of North Carolina, a post he held for eight years until 1894.


In 1888 and 1890, White reluctantly deferred candidacy for the district’s congressional seat to his brother–in–law Representative Henry Cheatham, whose calculated, conciliatory demeanor contrasted with White’s forthright, demanding, and unyielding personality.7 Cheatham lost his 1892 re–election campaign, and though the two men had an uneasy relationship, they were not outright political enemies until White made a serious bid for the “Black Second” congressional seat in 1894.8 Cheatham planned to capitalize on the redistricting that added a large number of black voters in north–central Vance and Craven counties to the existing district. Amicability between the brothers–in–law disintegrated until 1898, when Cheatham relented, supporting White for a second term.


In 1896 he was elected to the U.S. Congress representing the predominantly black Second District from his residence in Tarboro.  White served during what historian Rayford Logan has termed the nadir in race relations for the post-Reconstruction South. He was the last African-American Congressman during the beginning of the Jim Crow era and the only African American to serve in Congress during his tenure. The Democrats had regained control of the state legislature in the 1870s, but black candidates continued to be elected from some districts and locally. As a Congressman, a well-educated veteran politician and advocate of racial justice, White served as a spokesman for African Americans at the turn of the twentieth century On January 20, 1900, White introduced the another bill in Congress to make lynching a federal crime to be prosecuted by federal courts; it died in committee, opposed by southern white Democrats, who were making up the Solid South block.[21 White used the power of his office to appoint several African-American postmasters across his district, with the assistance of the state’s Republican senator, Jeter C. Pritchard. They were able to make patronage hires, as did other postmasters.


Indicating that he was well aware that he would be the last black Congressman for some time, White eloquently described the impact and illogical nature of white racism in his “Defense of the Negro Race—Charges Answered,” speech delivered in the U.S. House of Representatives on January 29, 1901.  In his speech, white argued that his Euro-American colleagues defied the U.S. Constitution when they encouraged racial violence, flamed the fires of racial animosity, and encouraged passage of laws which denied to African Americans privileges preserved for them in the Fourteenth and Fifteen Amendments. He condemned the tendency among some Democratic Congressmen to publicly extol the negative attributes of a few African American individuals as representative of the entire race. And finally he said:

“This is perhaps the Negroes’ temporary farewell to the American Congress, but let me say, Phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again. These parting words are in behalf of an outraged, heart-broken, bruised and bleeding, but God-fearing people; faithful, industrious, loyal, rising people – full of potential force.”


After disenfranchisement was achieved in new state constitutions and laws from 1890 to 1908, no African American would be elected to Congress from the South until Barbara Jordan from Texas and Andrew Young from Georgia in 1972 following the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 during the Civil Rights Movement.




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BHM 2018 #8: Black Politicians during Reconstruction

There is a wealth of information on the Internet about African-Americans in politics during Reconstruction. Entire books have been written about it. A part of it is an effort to rebut images of the black politicians during the Reconstruction era as lazy, corrupt and ignorant, as portrayed in “Birth of a Nation” and “Gone with the Wind”. Another reason for chronicling the period and the individuals is because, frankly, it’s fascinating.

Before the Civil War began, African Americans had only been able to vote in a few northern states, and there were virtually no black officeholders. The months after the Union victory in April 1865 saw extensive mobilization within the black community, with meetings, parades and petitions calling for legal and political rights, including the all-important right to vote.

During the first two years of Reconstruction, blacks organized Equal Rights Leagues throughout the South African Americans in South Carolina had been organizing politically longer than those living in most other states, and many blacks were elected to early state conventions there. In Norfolk, VA on April 4, 1865, the Colored Monitor Union Club was established to obtain all the rights of citizenship, including “the right of universal suffrage to all loyal men, without distinction of color, and to memorialize the Congress of the United States to allow the colored citizens the equal right of franchise with other citizens.” The men met again later in April and several times in May. At the same time, African Americans were organizing in other communities. Hampton, VA residents founded a Union League in March, and Williamsburg, VA residents founded a Colored Union League in May. In Richmond, VA on May 9, 1865, community leaders created the Colored Men’s Equal Rights League of Richmond, an affiliate of the National Equal Rights League that had been founded in 1864. “The objects of this League,” the organizers of the Richmond chapter proclaimed, “are to encourage sound morality, education, temperance, frugality, industry, and promote everything that pertains to a well-ordered and dignified life, and to obtain by appeals to the minds and consciences of the American people, or by legal process when possible, a recognition of the rights of the colored people of the Nation as American citizens.”

African American activists bitterly opposed the Reconstruction policies of President Andrew Johnson, which excluded blacks from southern politics and allowed state legislatures to pass restrictive “black codes” regulating the lives of the freed men and women. Fierce resistance to these discriminatory laws, as well as growing opposition to Johnson’s policies in the North, led to a Republican victory in the U.S. congressional elections of 1866 and to a new phase of Reconstruction that would give African Americans a more active role in the political, economic and social life of the South.

In 1867, Congress passed a law requiring the former Confederate states to include black male suffrage in their new state constitutions. Ironically, even though African American men began voting in the South after 1867, the majority of Northern states continued to deny them this basic right.

As more African Americans were allowed to participate in American political life, organizations like the growing Union League supported black political activism in the South. Beginning in 1867, blacks took part in state constitutional conventions for the first time and comprised the vast majority of Republican voters in the South.

In Virginia, the first election in which black men voted and those votes were counted was for delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1867–1868, to which they elected two dozen of their own. Beginning in 1869, African Americans began to be elected to the General Assembly, mostly as Republicans and later as members of the biracial Readjuster Party. Some black politicians were more radical than others, but they generally advocated black civil rights, access to free public schools, and a refinancing of the state’s large antebellum debt.

In July 1867 twenty whites and 150 blacks attended a Republican convention in Houston, TX where they endorsed free common schools and free homesteads from public lands for blacks and whites alike. Thus began a decades-long tradition of black Republicanism in the state. many black men registered for the first election in which they could participate-the 1868 referendum on whether to hold another constitutional convention and elect delegates. More blacks than whites cast ballots, and, with their white allies, they overcame the opposition of the majority of white voters and voted to hold another convention. The Convention of 1868–69qv, dominated by Republicans, included ten African-American delegates out of ninety. All ten were active on committees and presented important resolutions. Though frustrated in attempts to secure certain constitutional safeguards for their people, they contributed to the accomplishments of the convention, which paved the way for the readmission of Texas to the Union in March 1870.

However, in the North, the Republican’s once-huge voter majority over the Democratic Party was declining. Radical Republican leaders feared that they might lose control of Congress to the Democrats.

One solution to this problem called for including the black man’s vote in all Northern states.
Republicans assumed the new black voters would vote Republican just as their brothers were doing in the South. By increasing its voters in the North and South, the Republican Party could then maintain its stronghold in Congress.

The Republicans, however, faced an incredible dilemma. The idea of blacks voting was not popular in the North. In fact, several Northern states had recently voted against black male suffrage.
In May 1868, the Republicans held their presidential nominating convention in Chicago and chose Ulysses S. Grant as their candidate. The Republicans agreed that African-American male suffrage continued to be a requirement for the Southern states, but decided that the Northern states should settle this issue for themselves.

Grant was victorious in the election of 1868, but this popular general won by a surprisingly slim margin. It was clear to Republican leaders that if they were to remain in power, their party needed the votes of black men in the North.

When the new year began in 1869, the Republicans were ready to introduce a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the black man’s right to vote. For two months, Congress considered the proposed amendment. Several versions of the amendment were submitted, debated, rejected and then reconsidered in both the House and Senate.

Finally, at the end of February 1869, Congress approved a compromise amendment that did not even specifically mention the black man:
Section 1: The right of citizens of the United States vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Section 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

In a speech before the Massachusetts AntiSlavery Society, Frederick Douglass explained why the black man wanted the right to vote “in every state of the Union”:
It is said that we are ignorant; admit it. But if we know enough to be hung, we know enough to vote. If the Negro knows enough to pay taxes to support government, he knows enough to vote; taxation and representation should go together. If he knows enough to shoulder a musket and fight for the flag for the government, he knows enough to vote ….What I ask for the Negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice.

While Congress debated the 15th Amendment early in 1869, 150 black men from 17 states assembled for a convention in Washington, D.C. This was the first national meeting of black Americans in the history of the United States. Frederick Douglass was elected president of the convention.

On March 30, President Grant officially proclaimed the 15th Amendment as part of the Constitution. Washington and many other American cities celebrated. More than 10,000 blacks paraded through Baltimore. In a speech on May 5, 1870, Frederick Douglass rejoiced. “What a country — fortunate in its institutions, in its 15th Amendment, in its future.”

During Reconstruction, about 2,000 African American men served in political office. Hundreds of blacks held local offices in the South, more than 600 were elected to state legislatures, and 16 served in Congress, 2 in the Senate and 14 in the House of Representatives.

So long as whites remained divided, the black electoral minority capitalized on cleavages to maintain their political influence and shape urban politics. Many African-American communities practiced politics in a system characterized by segregation and white supremacy. Political influence was hard-won through pragmatic activism that mandated shifting alliances among different groups of blacks and whites. The local aspect of black enfranchisement which was more complex than either legislation or electoral results indicate at the national level.

At least 226 black Mississippians held public office during Reconstruction, compared to only 46 blacks in Arkansas and 20 in Tennessee. Mississippi sent the first two (and only) black senators of this period to Congress.

Between 1867 and 1895, nearly 100 black Virginians served in the two houses of the General Assembly or in the Constitutional Convention of 1867–1868.

South Carolina had the most elected officials – 315.South Carolina had the largest black population, at least in percentage terms—about 57 to 58 percent of the population of the state was African American in Reconstruction These 315 served in every kind of position—at the federal level, the state level, and the local level. Six black men served in Congress from South Carolina during Reconstruction. There were also U.S. tax assessors, pension agents, postmasters, customs officials. 210 African Americans served in the lower house of the state legislature and 29 in the state senate—a very hefty representation. And South Carolina is the only state that had a black majority in the legislature during Reconstruction. At the top of the state level, there were two black lieutenant governors, the treasurer, and secretary of state. Then there were numerous local officials ranging from justice of the peace, sheriff, and school board officials

Blacks made up the overwhelming majority of southern Republican voters, forming a coalition with “carpetbaggers” and “scalawags” (derogatory terms referring to recent arrivals from the North and southern white Republicans, respectively). A total of 265 African-American delegates were elected, more than 100 of whom had been born into slavery. Almost half of the elected black delegates served in South Carolina and Louisiana, where blacks had the longest history of political organization; in most other states, African Americans were underrepresented compared to their population.

Many black leaders during Reconstruction had gained their freedom before the Civil War (by self-purchase or through the will of a deceased owner), had worked as skilled slave artisans or had served in the Union Army. A large number of black political leaders came from the church, having worked as ministers during slavery or in the early years of Reconstruction, when the church served as the center of the black community. The background of these men was typical of the leaders that emerged during Reconstruction, but differed greatly from that of the majority of the African American population.

Some ran for office as representatives of their race, others as exemplars of the ideal that, with the end of slavery and the advent of legal equality, race no longer mattered. Reconstruction’s black Congressmen did not see themselves simply as spokesmen for the black community. Blanche Bruce was one of the more conservative black leaders; yet in the Senate he spoke out for more humane treatment of Native Americans and opposed legislation banning immigration from China.

As the most radical aspect of the so-called Radical Reconstruction period, the political activism of the African American community also inspired the most hostility from Reconstruction’s opponents. Southern whites frustrated with policies giving former slaves the right to vote and hold office increasingly turned to intimidation and violence as a means of reaffirming white supremacy. A number of black Congressmen faced death threats and defended themselves by posting armed guards at their homes. Southern whites used many forms of intimidation to oppose black voters, politicians, policies, and rights. . The foremost of these organizations was the Ku Klux Klan. Established in Tennessee in 1866, the Klan became a violent paramilitary organization that often promoted planters’ interests and the Democratic Party. The Ku Klux Klan targeted local Republican leaders and blacks who challenged their white employers.. Klansmen hid beneath costumes meant to represent the ghosts of Confederate soldiers, but they often unmasked themselves when committing violence. This act sent a chilling message to their victims: Klansmen thought they could murder with impunity, because local authorities were unwilling or unable to stop them. For example, in Mississippi, courts, black churches, and schools became frequent targets of racial violence. In Meridian three black leaders were arrested in 1871 for making “incendiary” speeches. During the black men’s trial, Klansmen shot up the courtroom, killing the Republican judge and two defendants. The violence sparked a bloodbath in Meridian; white rioters picked out dozens of black leaders and murdered them in cold blood. In Vicksburg, MS white supremacists formed the White Man’s party, patrolled the streets with guns, and convinced black voters to stay home on election day. In Georgia, one quarter of the black legislators were killed, threatened, beaten, or jailed.

In 1876, when the election for president ended with a dispute over electoral votes, the Republicans made a deal with the Southern Democrats. First, the Southerners agreed to support Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes for president. In turn, the Republicans promised to withdraw troops from the South and abandon federal enforcement of black’s rights, including the right to vote.

Within a few years, the Southern state governments required blacks to pay voting taxes, pass literacy tests and endure many other unfair restrictions on their right to vote. In Mississippi, 67 percent of the black adult men were registered to vote in 1867; by 1892 only 4 percent were registered. The political deal to secure Hayes as president rendered the 15th Amendment meaningless. Another 75 years passed before black voting rights were again enforced in the South.

For many decades, historians viewed Reconstruction as the lowest point in the American experience, a time of corruption and misgovernment presided over by unscrupulous carpetbaggers from the North, ignorant former slaves and traitorous scalawags (white Southerners who supported the new governments in the South).

To the critics of Reconstruction, the fact that black men were in office was one of the great horrors of that period. The Democratic press called these legislatures and constitutional conventions “menageries” and “monkey houses.” They ridiculed former slaves who thought themselves competent to frame a code of laws. They said that these officials were ignorant, illiterate, propertyless,

Mythologies about black officeholders formed a central pillar of this outlook. Their alleged incompetence and venality illustrated the larger “crime” of Reconstruction–placing power in the hands of a race incapable of participating in American democracy. D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film Birth of a Nation included a scene in which South Carolina’s black legislators downed alcohol and propped their bare feet on their desks while enacting laws. Claude Bowers, in The Tragic Era, a bestseller of the 1920s that did much to form popular consciousness about Reconstruction, offered a similar portrait. To Griffith and Bowers, the incapacity of black officials justified the violence of the Ku Klux Klan and the eventual disenfranchisement of Southern black voters.

Historians have long since demolished this racist portrait of the era. Today Reconstruction is viewed as a noble if flawed experiment, a forerunner of the modern struggle for racial justice. If the era was tragic, it was not because Reconstruction was attempted but because the effort to construct an interracial democracy on the ruins of slavery failed.

The 14 Black members of the House of Representatives during Reconstruction were:
Joseph Rainey (R-SC)1870-1879.
Jefferson Long (R-GA) 1871
Robert Delaney (R-SC) 1871-1873
Robert Elliott (R-SC) 1871-1874
Benjamin Turner (R-AL) 1871-1873
Josiah Walls (R-FL) 1871-1876
Richard Cain (R-SC) 1873-1879
John Lynch (R-MS) 1873-1877 & 1882-1883
Alonzo Ransier (R-SC) 1873-1875
James Rapier (R-AL) 1873-1875
Jeremiah Haralson (R-AL) 1875-1877
John Adams Hyman (R-NC) 1875-1877
Charles Nash (R-LA) 1875-1877
Robert Smalls (R-SC) 1875-79, 1882-83, 1884-87

Joseph Rainey (R-SC)1870-1879.
Born into slavery, his father Edward Rainey, a barber by trade, used his earnings to buy his family’s freedom. The Confederate Army called Rainey to service when the Civil War broke out in 1861. In 1862, Rainey and his wife escaped to Bermuda. Rainey returned to Charleston in 1866. The wealth Rainey acquired in Bermuda elevated his status in the community, and he was looked upon as a leader; he soon became active in the Republican Party. in 1870 he won a seat in the state senate, where he immediately became chairman of the finance committee. In February 1870, the Republican Party nominated Rainey for the remainder of Whittemore’s term in the 41st Congress (1869–1871) and for a full term in the 42nd Congress (1871–1873). On October 19, 1870, Rainey won the full term, topping Democrat C. W. Dudley by a substantial majority (63 percent). On November 8, he defeated Dudley once again, garnering more than 86 percent of the vote, in a special election to fill the seat for the remainder of the 41st Congress.5

Joseph Rainey was the first African American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, the first African American to preside over the House, and the longest–serving African American during the tumultuous Reconstruction period. While Rainey’s representation—like that of the other 21 black Representatives of the era—was symbolic, he also demonstrated the political nuance of a seasoned, substantive Representative, balancing his defense of southern blacks’ civil rights by extending amnesty to the defeated Confederates.

Rainey advocated for his constituents—both black and white. He used his growing political clout to influence the South Carolina state legislature to retain the customs duty on rice, the chief export of the district and the state. He also submitted a petition to improve Charleston Harbor and fought against an appropriations cut for Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter in Charleston. However, Rainey’s committee appointments and policies reflected his desire to defend black civil rights, and his loyalty to the Republican Party. Rainey received seats on three standing committees: Freedmen’s Affairs (41st–43rd Congresses), Indian Affairs (43rd Congress), and Invalid Pensions (44th–45th Congresses, 1875–1879). He also served on several select committees, including the Select Committee on the Centennial Celebration and the Proposed National Census of 1875 (44th Congress) and the Committee on the Freedmen’s Bank (44th Congress).

Rainey’s work on the Committee on Freedmen’s Affairs—created in 1865 to handle all legislation concerning newly freed slaves—earned him the most recognition.6 On April 1, 1871, he delivered his first major speech, arguing for the use of federal troops to protect southern blacks from the recently organized Ku Klux Klan. Enumerating the dangers of returning home to South Carolina on congressional breaks, exposing himself to violence by the Red Shirts—a virulent South Carolina white supremacist organization—Rainey said, “When myself and my colleagues shall leave these Halls and turn our footsteps toward our southern homes, we know not that the assassin may await our coming, as marked for his vengeance.”7 The Ku Klux Klan Act was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on April 20, 1871, but the bill failed to stop Klan terrorism.8 After his speech, Rainey received a letter written in red ink instructing him and other advocates of black civil rights to “prepare to meet your God.”9 White southerners virtually ignored the Ku Klux Klan Act, and congressional opponents circumvented its provisions by eliminating funding. In March of 1872, Rainey found himself arguing for the federal appropriations needed to enforce the act.10

Jefferson Long (R-GA) 1871
Jefferson Long was born to a slave mother on March 3, 1836, in Knoxville, a small town in west–central Georgia. Long’s father was believed to have been the son of a local white man.3 Defying the law, Long learned to read and write. Trained as a tailor, he opened a successful business in Macon, Georgia, after his emancipation following the end of the Civil War. Most of his clients were white, as they were the only rural Georgians able to afford custom–made clothing His prosperous tailor shop catered to politically connected clients and provided him the resources to become involved in Republican politics. Starting in 1866, Long began promoting literacy among African Americans, and in 1867, he became active in the Georgia Educational Association, formed to protect and advance the interests of freedmen. Long also belonged to the Macon Union League, a grass–roots political action group. A dazzling orator, he introduced Georgian freedmen to politics by preaching the virtues of the Republican Party. While traveling the state, organizing local Republican branches, and encouraging black voters to register, Long brought many whites into the Republican fold.

Congress delayed Georgia’s re–entry into the Union because the state legislature refused to ratify the 14th Amendment, and white Republicans and Conservatives expelled 29 legally elected black members from the Georgia legislature in September 1868. Conditions for readmission included reseating the black members and ratification of the 15th Amendment. In July 1870, these terms were agreed to, and a Georgia delegation was permitted to return to Congress. A special election to fill the delegation’s seats for the remainder of the 41st Congress (1869–1871) was set for the same day—December 20, 1870—as the election for a full term to the 42nd Congress (1871–1873). The Georgia Republican Party chose black candidates to run for the abbreviated terms, reserving the full term for white candidates. In the state’s central district, the party nominated Long for the 41st Congress and state senator Thomas Jefferson Speer for the 42nd Congress. The night before the election, Long gave a series of speeches across the district, encouraging black voters to support the Republican ticket. The following day, he rallied a large number of blacks from Macon and marched with them to the polls. Armed whites were waiting, and a riot broke out. Long was unharmed, but four others were killed, and most blacks left the polls without voting. The unusual election lasted three days. White politicians accused blacks of voting multiple times and spread rumors that African Americans from South Carolina and Alabama had crossed state lines to vote. But despite the election’s inconsistencies, Long defeated his opponent, Democrat Winburn J. Lawton, garnering 12,867 votes (53 percent). However, he was not sworn in until January 16, 1871, because of complications related to Georgia’s readmission to the Union.7 Long took his seat one month after Representative Joseph Rainey of South Carolina was seated in the House.

Long’s term was so short he was not assigned to any committees, yet he was determined to fight for the civil rights of freed slaves. On February 1, 1871, he became the first African–American Representative to speak before the House when he disagreed with a bill that exempted former Confederate politicians from swearing allegiance to the Constitution.8 Long argued against allowing unrepentant Confederates to return to Congress, noting that many belonged to secret societies like the Ku Klux Klan, which intimidated black citizens, and feigned loyalty to rebuild political strength. “If this House removes the disabilities of disloyal men,” Long warned, “I venture to prophesy you will again have trouble from the very same men who gave you trouble before.”9. “Do we, then, really propose here to–day … when loyal men dare not carry the ‘stars and stripes’ through our streets … to relieve from political disability the very men who have committed these Kuklux [sic] outrages?” he declared on the House Floor. “I think that I am doing my duty to my constituents and my duty to my country when I vote against such a proposition.”2 Many major newspapers reported on Long’s address, and northern newspapers, especially, commended his oratorical skills. Long was the last black Representative elected from Georgia until Representative Andrew Young won a seat in 1972.

Robert C. DeLarge (R-SC) 1871-1873

Robert Carlos De Large was born on March 15, 1842, in Aiken, South Carolina. Although some records indicate De Large was born a slave, he likely was the offspring of free mulatto parents. The De Large family owned slaves and, as members of the free mulatto elite, were afforded opportunities denied their darker–skinned neighbors. Robert De Large was educated at a North Carolina primary school and attended Wood High School in Charleston, South Carolina. He later married and had a daughter, Victoria.3

De Large was a tailor and a farmer before gaining lucrative employment with the Confederate Navy during the Civil War. Perhaps regretting the source of his financial windfall, De Large later donated most of his wartime earnings to the Republican Party.4 Nevertheless, by 1870 he had amassed a fortune that exceeded $6,500. He moved within Charleston’s highest circles and joined the Brown Fellowship Society, an exclusive organization for mullatos. After the war, De Large worked for the Republican state government as an agent in the Freedmen’s Bureau. He became an organizer for the South Carolina Republican Party, serving on important committees at several state conventions. He chaired the credentials committee at the 1865 Colored People’s Convention at Charleston’s Zion Church. In 1868, De Large won his first elected office, serving in the state house of representatives where he chaired the ways and means committee. In 1870, De Large set his sights on a congressional district representing Charleston and the southeastern portion of the state. He secured the Republican nomination over incumbent scalawag Christopher Bowen, a former Confederate soldier and one of Governor Scott’s most formidable political enemies De Large’s unvarnished comments on the House Floor about local party corruption caused him to run afoul of state Republicans. De Large participated sparingly in House Floor debate during the second session, as he was occupied defending his seat. The House Committee on Elections began consideration of Christopher Bowen’s challenge to his election in December 1871, and De Large took a leave of absence in April 1872 to prepare his defense. The rigors of defending his seat in the 42nd Congress took a toll on De Large’s fragile health and left him few options other than retirement. Black politician Alonzo Ransier won his seat. De Large returned to the state capital in Columbia and later moved to Charleston after Governor Scott appointed him magistrate of that city. He died of tuberculosis shortly thereafter on February 14, 1874, at the age of 31.

Robert Elliott (R-SC) 1871-1874
Robert Elliott was born on August 11, 1842, likely to West Indian parents in Liverpool, England.3 He received a public school education in England and learned a typesetter’s trade. Robert Elliott was intellectually gifted and well–educated. He often quoted classical literature and demonstrated facility with several languages. He quickly dove into Reconstruction–Era Republican politics in his new South Carolina home, emerging as a leading figure at the 1868 state constitutional convention. “Elliott knew the political condition of every nook and corner of the state. He knew every important person in every county, village, or town. He knew the history of the entire State as it related to politics.” Some think, said another newspaper, that “he is the ablest Negro intellectually in the South One of 78 black delegates at the convention, he advocated compulsory public education (although he opposed school integration) and helped defeat the imposition of a poll tax and a literacy test for voters.

Later in 1868, while serving as the only black member of the Barnwell County board of commissioners, Elliott was elected to the state house of representatives, where he remained until 1870. During his tenure in the state assembly, Elliott used his keen intelligence and ambition to study law and was admitted to the South Carolina bar in September 1868. In October 1870, Republicans in a west–central South Carolina congressional district nominated Robert Elliott to run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. The district included the capital, Columbia, and had only a slight black majority. White colleagues received Elliott coolly. His dark skin came as a shock, as the two other African Americans on the floor, Joseph Rainey and Jefferson Long, were light–skinned mulattos. Described as the first “genuine African” in Congress, Elliott seemed to embody the new political opportunities—and southern white apprehensions—ushered in by emancipation. “I shall never forget [my first day in Congress],” Elliott later recalled. “I found myself the center of attraction. Everything was still.”8 Furthermore, his politics were more radical than his African–American colleagues’, and his unwavering stance for black civil rights made many Representatives of both parties wary of his intentions. Elliott was given a position on the Committee on Education and Labor, where he served during both of his terms.

Elliott’s efforts to enact legislation to weaken the Klan were more successful. In his April 1 speech, he read the letter posted by the Klansmen at the Union Courthouse jail, following it with words about the prejudice against his race: “It is custom, sir, of Democratic [newspapers] to stigmatize the negroes of the South as being in a semi–barbarous condition; but pray tell me, who is the barbarian here, the murderer or the victim? I fling back in the teeth of those who make it this most false and foul aspersion upon the negro of the southern States.”10 The Third Ku Klux Klan Bill, which reinforced freedmen’s voting rights, passed and was signed into law three weeks later. The following October, President Ulysses S. Grant used the powers granted him by the bill to suspend habeas corpus in nine southern states, facilitating the prosecution of Klansmen.

During his second term, Elliott worked to help pass Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner’s Civil Rights Bill, to eliminate discrimination from public transportation, public accommodations, and schools. Elliott gained national attention for a speech rebuffing opponents of the bill, who argued that federal enforcement of civil rights was unconstitutional. Responding to former Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens of Georgia, who had been re–elected to the House, Elliott reaffirmed his belief in the right and duty of Congress to legislate against discrimination.

Benjamin Turner (R-AL) 1871-1873
Benjamin Sterling Turner, was born on March 17, 1825 in Weldon, North Carolina. He was raised as a slave and as a child received no formal education. In 1830 Turner moved to Selma, Alabama with his mother and slave owner. While living on the plantation he surreptitiously obtained an education and by age 20 Turner was able to read and write fluently.

While still a slave Turner managed a hotel and stable in Selma. Although his owner received most of the money for Turner’s work, he managed to save some of his earnings and shortly after the Civil War he used the savings he had accumulated to purchase the property. The U.S. Census of 1870 reported Turner as owning $2,500 in real estate and $10,000 in personal property, making him one of the wealthiest freedmen in Alabama.

Turner also became a teacher in 1865 and helped establish the first school for African American children. Two years later he became involved in politics. After participating in the Republican State Convention in 1867, Turner was named tax collector of Dallas County. The following year he won his first elective office when he became a Selma City Councilman. In 1870 Turner was elected to the United States Congress as the first African American Representative in Alabama history.

While in office Turner proposed bills that contributed funding for Civil War-related damages to several federal buildings in central Alabama and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Turner was also appointed to the House Committee on Invalid Pensions and was responsible for issuing pensions to Union war veterans. Through his influence African American veterans received a pension of eight dollars a month.

Josiah Walls (R-FL) 1871-1876

Josiah T. Walls was born a slave in Winchester, Virginia on December 30, 1842. He was conscripted by the Confederate Army and captured in Yorktown by Union forces in 1862. Walls then enlisted in the U.S. Colored Troops Infantry Regiment in 1863 where he rose in rank to First Sergeant.

After leaving the U.S. Army, Walls settled in Alachua County, Florida and became active in local politics. After passage of the U.S. Military Reconstruction Act of 1867, Walls joined the newly formed Republican Party in Florida.

Walls’s six year tenure as a U.S. Congressman was filled with controversy. He was the only black representative unseated three times by opponents challenging his elections in 1870, 1872, and 1874 including J.J. Finley, a former Confederate General. Despite these disputed elections, Walls compiled a legislative record which included introducing bills favoring land grants to railroads and securing connections to ports servicing Cuba and the West Indies. Walls also submitted measures to reinforce the Civil Rights Act of 1866. After serving in Congress he returned to the Florida State legislature and resumed farming on his 175 acre plantation near Gainesville, Florida he had acquired in 1873. Walls also purchased a newspaper, The New Era. Walls remained active in politics serving at various times as mayor of Gainesville, a member of the County Board of Public Instruction and County Commissioner.

Richard Cain (R-SC) 1873-1879

Richard Harvey Cain was born a free black in Greenbrier County, Virginia on April 12, 1825. In 1831 his parents moved to Gallipolis, Ohio where he attended school. Seventeen years later, in 1848, he joined the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and became a minister in Muscatine, Iowa. Cain moved to South Carolina in 1865 to lead a Charleston AME church and soon became involved in local politics. In 1868, he was elected a member of the South Carolina State Constitutional Convention. Later in the year he was elected to the South Carolina State Senate, a post he held until 1870.

In 1872, Richard Harvey Cain was elected to South Carolina’s at large seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Cain served on the Agriculture Committee in the 43rd Congress. He is most remembered, however, for his support of a civil rights bill introduced into the House in 1870. Although the bill failed to be enacted, during the debate he spoke eloquently and passionately about his own experiences during a trip to the nation’s capital where he was denied first class accommodations on a train. By 1874, Cain’s at large seat was eliminated and he chose not so seek another office that year. He continued, however, to be actively involved in the South Carolina Republican Party and in 1876 he returned to Congress representing the 2nd district of South Carolina. Cain served one term and then returned to his ministerial duties in Charleston. In 1880 Cain was elected a Bishop in the A.M.E. Church. Soon afterwards he moved to Texas and became one of the founders of Paul Quinn College in Austin.

John Lynch (R-MS) 1873-1877 & 1882-1883
John Roy Lynch was born in Concordia Parish, Louisiana on September 10, 1847 to Patrick Lynch, an Irish immigrant and Catherine White, a slave. Lynch’s father died soon after his birth. Lynch and his mother were then traded to a plantation in Natchez, Mississippi. During the Civil War, Lynch became free when he fled the plantation and to serve as a cook for the 49th Illinois Volunteer Regiment.

During Reconstruction, Lynch joined the Republican Party in Mississippi. After working as assistant secretary for the Republican State Convention, Lynch became the Justice of the Peace in Natchez County, Mississippi. In November 1869 at the age of 22, Lynch was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives. Three years later, in 1872 he was named Speaker of the House.

Later in 1872, Lynch ran for a seat in the United States House of Representatives. He was elected, winning more than fifty percent of the popular vote. In Congress Lynch was known primarily for his support of a civil rights measure that eventually became the Civil Rights Act of 1875. During his congressional campaign in 1874, Lynch voiced concern for racist white Democrats attacks on black Republicans in Mississippi, a prelude to the bloody Mississippi gubernatorial campaign of 1875 where hundreds of black and white Republicans were killed. Despite those violent tactics which reduced the Republican vote in the state, Lynch managed to be re-elected to Congress in 1874 and 1876. During his third term, however, he was increasingly isolated from the state’s other political leaders, virtually all of whom were white Democrats. Despite intense opposition from Democrats, Lynch was reelected in 1880. Because the Democrats disputed the election, he fought for over a year (half his term) before Congress finally seated him. During his remaining year in Congress, he continued to support civil rights legislation.

Alonzo Ransier (R-SC) 1873-1875
Alonzo Jacob Ransier was born a free black man in Charleston in 1834. Little is known of his childhood and early education. At the end of the Civil War he worked as a shipping clerk. In 1865, at the age of 31, he was appointed state registrar of elections. The following year, 1866, Ransier attended South Carolina’s first Republican convention and two years later was elected to the Constitutional Convention which established the state’s first racially integrated government. Ransier served in that government when he was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1868. In 1870 Ransier was elected Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina. 6 His position afforded him an opportunity to preside over the state senate as well as the Southern States Convention in Columbia in 1871 Ransier’s tenure in South Carolina’s executive government was remarkable for his honesty in a notoriously corrupt administration.7 Ransier was a delegate at the 1872 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. That same year he was elected to the Forty-Third United States Congress from the 2nd Congressional District.

Ransier was actively committed to the cause of equality for the African American citizens of South Carolina and the nation. While in Congress he fought for a civil rights bill, supported strong tariff laws, opposed arbitrary salary increases for federal officials, advocated term limits for politicians and petitioned for funds to improve the maintenance of Charleston harbor.

James Rapier (R-AL) 1873-1875

James Thomas Rapier was born on November 13, 1837 in Florence, Alabama and attended high school in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1856 at the age of 19 he traveled to attend the King School in Buxton, Ontario, Canada, an experimental black community. There, along with his education, he experienced a religious conversion and decided to devote his life to helping southern blacks. Rapier also attended the University of Glasgow and Franklin College in Nashville before receiving a teaching certificate in 1863.

Rapier moved to Maury County, Tennessee and in 1865 started campaigning for African American suffrage. He delivered the keynote address at the Tennessee Negro Suffrage Convention in Nashville that same year. When the movement saw no success he took up cotton farming in his home town of Florence, Alabama and became successful.

After the U.S. Congress passed the Reconstruction Acts in 1867, Rapier was elected a delegate to the first Republican state convention in Montgomery, Alabama and helped draft the Party’s platform. Rapier adopted a moderate political stance, which earned him respect from many Republicans. To some white southern Democrats, however, his engagement in politics at all was considered unacceptable. In 1868 Rapier was driven from his home by the Ku Klux Klan and remained in seclusion for almost a year.

In 1872 Rapier became the Republican Party nominee for Congress from northern Alabama, and after an intense campaign, won a huge victory. While in Congress he pushed through a bill to make Montgomery a port of delivery (which turned out to be an enormous boost for the city’s economy), and supported civil rights, education, and anti-violence legislation as well as the 1875 Civil Rights Law.

Democrats, however, regained control of the state and Rapier was defeated in his 1874 reelection bid. He ran again in 1876 but lost. Rapier remained active in politics after Reconstruction. He eventually became disenchanted with the treatment of African Americans in the region. By 1879 Rapier was one of the leaders of the Negro emigration movement that encouraged African Americans to leave the South. He purchased land in Kansas for black settlement and lectured extensively on the advantages of black settlement in the West.

Jeremiah Haralson (R-AL) 1875-1877
Jeremiah Haralson was born near Columbus, Georgia on April 1, 1846. The slave of Georgia planter John Haralson, he was taken to Alabama where he remained in bondage until 1865. Haralson taught himself to read and write and later became a skilled orator and debater.

Haralson won a seat in Alabama’s House of Representatives and in 1872 was elected to the State Senate. In 1874 Haralson again ran for the U.S. House of Representatives. Haralson narrowly won the Republican primary over Liberal Republican Frederick G. Bromberg. Soon after the primary Bromberg accused Haralson of voter fraud and sought to deny him his seat. The Democrats who controlled the U.S. House of Representatives supported Haralson and on March 4, 1875 he took his seat in Congress.

Congressman Jeremiah Haralson supported the policies of President Ulysses Grant and urged black voters to remain loyal to the Republican Party. Appointed to the House Committee on Public expenditures, he introduced legislation to use proceeds from public land sales for educational purposes and for the relief of the Medical College of Alabama. Haralson broke with other Republican-era black Congressmen by criticizing the use of federal soldiers to control violence and ensure orderly voting in the South. He also favored general amnesty for former Confederates.

John Adams Hyman (R-NC) 1875-1877
John Adams Hyman was born into slavery on July 23, 1840 in Warren County, North Carolina. Hyman’s thirst for knowledge resulted in him being sold away from his family for attempting to read a spelling book that was given to him by a sympathetic white jeweler. He continued to seek knowledge at his new residence in Alabama and was sold again for fear that he would influence other slaves. Hyman was sold eight more times for his attempts to educate himself.

At the age of 25 Hyman was freed and returned to his family in North Carolina. He quickly enrolled in school where he received an elementary education. Hyman also became a landowner and merchant. Hyman, a Mason, soon emerged as a leader of the post-Civil War North Carolina black community.

Following the 1868 Constitutional Convention Hyman was elected to the North Carolina State Senate from Warren County. He served in the State Senate until 1874. In 1872, Hyman was unsuccessful in a bid to become North Carolina’s first black congressman when he campaigned in the state’s heavily African American Second Congressional District. He ran again in 1874, winning against a white Democrat. Hyman was the only Republican elected to Congress from North Carolina that year. The election was contested, however, and Hyman’s term ended before he was officially seated.

While in Congress, Hyman proposed federal funding for Civil War-related damages in his district. He also called for the reimbursement of the freedmen and women who had lost money in the Federally Chartered Freedman’s Bank. However, because his seat was challenged his entire term, Hyman was unable to fully make his presence felt in Congress.

Charles Nash (R-LA) 1875-1877
Republican Charles Edmund Nash was born in Opelousas, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, on May 23, 1844. Before his time in Congress ,Nash attended common schools, was a bricklayer in New Orleans, and had enlisted as a private for the U.S. volunteers in July of 1863. He was later promoted to Sergeant Major, but his military service proved to be disastrous as he lost the lower third of his right leg just before the Civil War’s end.

As a result of his military service and strong support of the Republican Party, he was appointed to the position of night inspector in the New Orleans Customs House – a powerful post in the local political machine. In 1874 he was elected, uncontested, to the House of Representatives from the 6th Congressional District.

Despite his easy election, Nash made little political impact during his time in Congress. He was assigned to the Committee on Education and Labor. On June 7th, 1876 Nash made the only major address during his term as Congressman. His speech condemned the violent and anti- democratic actions of some Southern Democrats, called for greater education among the populace, and also for increased racial and political peace especially in the South.

Robert Smalls (R-SC) 1875-79, 1882-83, 1884-87
Robert Smalls was born in Beaufort, South Carolina, on April 5, 1839 and worked as a house slave until the age of 12. At that point his owner, John K. McKee, sent him to Charleston to work as a waiter, ship rigger, and sailor, with all earnings going to McKee. This arrangement continued until Smalls was 18 when he negotiated to keep all but $15 of his monthly pay, a deal which allowed Smalls to begin saving money. The savings that he accumulated were later used to purchase his wife and daughter from their owner for a sum of $800. Their son was born a few years later.

In addition to his claim to fame as a Congressman, Robert Smalls is well-known for stealing a Confederate ship, the Planter, on which he worked as a deckhand during the war. On May 13, 1862, the crew of the Planter went ashore for the evening, leaving Smalls to guard the ship and its contents. Smalls loaded the ship with his wife, children and 12 other slaves from the city and sailed it to the area of the harbor where Union ships had formed their blockade. This trip led the ship past five forts, all of which required the correct whistle signal to indicate they were a Confederate ship. Smalls eventually presented the Planter before Onward, a Union blockade ship and raised the white flag of surrender. He later turned over all charts, a Confederate naval code book, and armaments, as well as the Planter itself, over to the Union Navy.

Smalls’s feat is partly credited with persuading a reluctant President Abraham Lincoln to now consider allowing African Americans into the Union Army. Smalls went on a speaking tour across the North to describe the episode and to recruit black soldiers for the war effort. By late 1863 he returned to the war zone to pilot the Planter, now a Union war vessel. In December 1863 he was promoted to Captain of the vessel, becoming the first African American to hold that rank in the history of the United States Navy.

At the war’s conclusion, Smalls received a commission as brigadier general of the South Carolina militia. He then purchased his former owner’s house in Beaufort, but he was generous to the economically devastated McKees.11 Having received a rudimentary education from private tutors in Philadelphia during the war, Smalls continued his studies after settling in Beaufort.
After the Civil War Smalls entered politics as a Republican. Smalls’s impressive résumé and his ability to speak the Sea Island Gullah dialect enhanced his local popularity and opened doors in South Carolina politics. He was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives and later to the South Carolina Senate. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives first from South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District and later from South Carolina’s 7th Congressional District. Smalls served in Congress between 1868 and 1889.

South Carolina “Red Shirts”—a local branch of the Ku Klux Klan—regularly threatened Smalls and his supporters during often chaotic and violent campaigns. Smalls described his 1876 election as “a carnival of bloodshed and violence.” Smalls’s congressional career focused on promoting African-American civil rights. “My race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be equal of any people anywhere,” Smalls asserted in 1895. “All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life.”

By 1882, South Carolina Democrats had gerry–mandered the state so that only one district retained any hope of electing a black candidate. The new district’s lines demonstrated the legislature’s intent; completely ignoring county lines, the district contained one–quarter of the state’s substantial black population (82 percent of the district’s population was black).31 However, Smalls continued to win elections and served for 3 more terms.

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