Throughout the month of February, New Community will take the time to highlight pioneers in African American History who are not typically celebrated. We hope you will take the time to read this information and share with your family and friends.
- Gladys Mae Brown was born in a rural county of Virginia in 1930. She was born to parents who trusted God, read the Bible regularly and made sure their children went in church.
- Gladys graduated high school top of her class and went on to earn her bachelor's and master's degree in mathematics.
- Gladys landed a government job at a Naval Base where she learned how to work what was known then as a “supercomputer” that filled an entire room.
- Gladys began analyzing satellite data, programming the big computer to make more precise calculations of the shape of the earth. Her complex algorithms were eventually used to develop the Global Positioning System (GPS).
- After working for the government 42 years, she earned a PhD in Public Administration at age 88, and was inducted to the Air Force Hall of Fame in 2018.
- For the last 17 years, she and her husband have been active with the Gideons, who distribute Bibles to hotels, hospitals and prisons in 200 countries.
Dr. Dorothy Height was hailed as the "godmother of the women's movement." She used her background in education and social work to advance women's rights. She was a leader in the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) and the president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) for more than 40 years. She was also among the few women present at the 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. King delivered his famous, "I Have A Dream" Speech.
Garrett Morgan blazed a trail for African American inventors with his patents, including those for a hair-straightening product, a breathing device, a revamped sewing machine and an improved traffic signal.
Garrett Morgan was the first Black man in Cleveland to own a car. Morgan worked on his mechanical skills and developed a friction drive clutch. Then, in 1923, he created a new kind of traffic signal, one with a warning light to alert drivers that they would need to stop, after witnessing a carriage accident at a particularly problematic intersection in the city.
In 1916, the city of Cleveland was drilling a new tunnel under Lake Erie for a fresh water supply. Workers hit a pocket of natural gas, which resulted in a huge explosion and trapped workers underground amidst suffocating noxious fumes and dust. When Morgan heard about the explosion, he and his brother put on breathing devices, made their way to the tunnel and entered as quickly as possible. The brothers managed to save two lives and recover four bodies before the rescue effort was shut down. Garrett Morgan was eventually restored to his place in history as a hero of the Lake Erie rescue.
Garrett Morgan improved and saved countless lives worldwide, including those of firefighters, soldiers and vehicle operators, with his profound inventions. His work provided the blueprint for many important advancements that came later and continues to inspire and serve as a basis for research conducted by modern-day inventors and engineers.
Despite spending much of her life enslaved, Phillis Wheatley was the first African American and second woman (after Anne Bradstreet) to publish a book of poems.
Born around 1753 in Gambia, Africa, Wheatley was captured by slave traders and brought to America in 1761. Upon arrival, she was sold to the Wheatley family in Boston, Massachusetts. Her first name Phillis was derived from the ship that brought her to America, “the Phillis.”
Wheatley’s poems reflected several influences on her life, among them the well-known poets she studied, such as Alexander Pope and Thomas Gray. Pride in her African heritage was also evident. Her writing style embraced the elegy, likely from her African roots, where it was the role of girls to sing and perform funeral dirges. Religion was also a key influence, and it led Protestants in America and England to enjoy her work. Enslavers and abolitionists both read her work; the former to convince the enslaved population to convert, the latter as proof of the intellectual abilities of people of color.
In addition to making an important contribution to American literature, Wheatley’s literary and artistic talents helped show that African Americans were equally capable, creative, intelligent human beings who benefited from an education. In part, this helped the cause of the abolition movement.
1. "Lift Every Voice and Sing" was originally a poem and was adopted as the "Black National Anthem" by the NAACP as their official theme song.
2. A stanza from “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was recited by Rev. Joseph E. Lowery during the benediction at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.
3. While attending Harvard, Carter G. Woodson and his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, initiated a program named Negro History and Literature Week, that turned into Black History Month.
4. Mae Carol Jemison was the first African American woman to travel into space.
5. The hair brush, lawn mower, cellphone, refrigerator and the air conditioner were all products of African American engineering.