Throughout American history many African Americans have been overlooked in the field of science. Some powerful minds and great inventors haven’t been re-introduced to new generations. African Americans have contributed a great deal to the advancements of our country and one of the major fields they have made contributions to is in the field of science. Many successful African Americans have been overshadowed by their Caucasian counterparts. More of our children should be aware of these great historians.
African Americans that have made major contributions in the field of science that should be discussed, studied and taught to our society to educate new generations of the vast majority of these great scientists. There are a variety of areas in the science field that African Americans have participated. There were Chemists, Biochemists, Biologists, Physicists, and many others. There were people like Herman Branson who was an assistant professor of chemistry and physics at Howard University who help prepare many young students for the science field.
Dr. Branson became a full professor of physics and was made chairman of the physics department of Howard University from 1941 to 1968. He had research interests in mathematical biology and protein structure. Dale Emeagwali was honored scientist of the year in 1996. She has made great contributions to field of science that has benefited mankind. Dr. Emeagwali came from a background where if you wanted to be a doctor while growing up, you would be slapped across the head and told to stop dreaming. Her dreams of being a scientist came true as she worked hard to achieve her degree and make startling discoveries.
Among her accomplishments she made the discovery of isozymes of kynurenine formamidase in the basterium streptomyces parvulus which, prior to her findings, were known to only exist in higher organisms. Dr. Emeagwali also proved that cancer gene _expression could be inhibited by antisense methodology, which she says can lead to better treatment for cancer. She is a well accomplished scientist that many people have never heard of. All fields of science affects the lives of many people, but the inventors are left out. Inventors make many lives more comfortable and convenient.
George Edward Alcorn, Jr. was a not so well-known inventor, but he was a well-established scientist and businessman. George holds eight patents in the United States and Europe on semiconductor technology. Benjamin Bradley was an inventor, and also was a slave. He made the first steam engine at the age of sixteen with a few materials like a piece of gun barrel and pewter. His master helped him, but would only give him five dollars out of his wages. Bradley was unable to patent his work under United States law, since during this time period African Americans were not considered to be citizens.
Benjamin Bradley later purchased his freedom with the earnings he received from his work. Everyone has heard of the term “The Real McCoy,” this term refers to the oiling device used for industrial machinery. Elijah McCoy was born in Canada from parents who were former slaves. He returned to the U. S. and settled in Detroit, Michigan. His first invention was a lubricator for steam engines. It was issued on July 12, 1872. The invention helped machines specific parts that remained in motion to stay oiled. This new oiling device helped revolutionize the industrial machine industry.
Another great inventor whose inventions made streets safer was Garrett Morgan. Morgan is known for inventing the Gas Mask and the traffic signal. He was the son of former slaves and was born in Paris, Kentucky where he spent his childhood going to school and helping out on the farm. He left Kentucky when he was a teenager and moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in search of other opportunities. Morgan invented a device called the Morgan Safety hood and smoke protector in 1914. Just two years later he made the news for using his new invention to rescue 32 men that were trapped during an explosion in an underground tunnel 250 feet beneath Lake Eerie.
After the rescue, Morgan’s company received many request from fire departments from around the country to purchase his new masks. It was later refined for use by the U. S. army during World War I. The mask went on to win numerous gold medals and honors, but no recognition was given to the original creator of the first Gas Mask, Garrett Morgan. Being an established businessman who owned his own automobile, it was during his driving experiences that he was inspired to invent an improvement to the traffic signal. Morgan knew of the different forms of transportation that were always in motion on the streets.
The Ford Motor Company was founded in the 1903 and it wasn’t uncommon for bicycles, animal-power vehicles and gas powered vehicles to share the same roadways. Accidents were frequent and quite tragic. After witnessing an accident with a horse-drawn carriage and an automobile, Morgan knew it was time to take his ideas and create an invention to prevent such horrific traffic accidents. It took time and enormous effort to get his patent, especially in light of racial problems involved as well as other prejudicial issues. Morgan received his patent for the signal in 1923 and its design was simple and safe.
It was a T- shaped pole unit that featured three positions: Stop, Go and an all directional stop position. The third position was used to stop traffic in all directions so that pedestrians could cross the streets more safely. The only drawback was that it was manual. It was later replaced with the red, yellow, and green signals. Many of the great people mentioned herein are not recognized and do not have a special day of celebration. The only appreciation and recognition they receive is during Black History Month. To not acknowledge their achievements and contributions is wrong.
This is not just black history, its American history because African Americans aren’t the only ones that benefit from their contributions. There are two scientists that have made their impact in history and in science. Percy. L. Julian and Ernest E. Just. Ernest Just went through many challenges to become the man that he was. He became a brilliant marine biologist, zoologist, physiologist, and research scientist that made numerous significant discoveries concerning cell behavior. Ernest Just faced many obstacles in his career because of racial prejudice.
You would think the white scientists that have the ideas and high level of intelligence would be smart enough to acknowledge have Just for his work instead of the color of his skin. Just was considered to be a great academic student from the time he was a young adult to the end of his life. His father died when he was four years old, and his mother worked as a teacher to support their family. Just, at the time, attended an all-black, public elementary school, but also helped out by working in the fields after school. Just and his mother agreed that he would receive a better education in the northern United States.
After he finished public school in Charleston, S. C. , he went to New York City at the age seventeen to earn enough money to attend the Kimball Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire. He only worked for four weeks in New York and was financially able to enroll at Kimball Academy. Just graduated with honors in 1903 at the age of 19; he completed four years of classes in three and served as the editor of the school newspaper and president of the debating society. He was a very active academic person during his teenage years. Just went on to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, where he was the only African American student in a class of 287.
He was inspired to enter the field of study that he would stay in for the rest of his life. He studied under a famous zoologist, Professor William Patten, chairman of the biology department. By his senior year he was performing brilliantly. Just had superior grades and was award with received many awards. Upon leaving college, Ernest Just found the predominantly white professional world closed to him. So, he chose to pursue a career in academia and accepted a position teaching English and rhetoric at Howard University in Washington, D. C. Eventually, he taught more advanced courses, and his salary in 1907 was $400. per year.
The summer of 1909, Ernest began his graduate training in biology at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Massachusetts. He contacted one of his former teachers from Dartmouth, Professor Will Patten, about possible courses of graduate study in science. Of course Patten referred him to the top person he knew, Frank R. Lillie who was head of zoology at the University of Chicago and director of the MBL. Soon Dr. Lillie became Ernest’s mentor and arranged for Just to enroll in the University of Chicago’s doctorate program by taking courses at the MBL.
He was well on his way to becoming a great teacher of science and switched from teaching English to teaching Science at Howard University. His salary increased over the years and his summers were dedicated at the Laboratory in Massachusetts. Ernest was encouraged by Lillie to undertake scientific research. This began his deeper look into science and opened his ideas. He first started on the problem of cell cleavage, or divisions, in the eggs of nereis, a type of sandworm, this was the beginning of his lifelong interest and study of marine eggs.
Ernest’s first paper demonstrated that the sperm entrance point is critical in determining the line of cleavage of the egg. The importance of his discovery was recognized at the time, and years later a renowned geneticist cited Just’s discovery as a fundamental and authoritative study on the subject. While Just was conducting research on the embryological resources of marine animals, in 1913 The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) initiated plans for an award to go to a person of African descent who had performed “the foremost service to his race.
The 30 nominees for the first Spingarn Medal reflected art, politics, social work, business, literature, education, and athletics. They wanted science to be included and asked Jacques Loeb, a noted biologist at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, to recommend a science candidate. He nominated Ernest Just, whom he met at (MBL) for the important scientific research he had accomplished. Ernest Just was subsequently awarded the first Spingarn Medal. It was presented to him on February 12, 1915, by New York’s governor, Charles Whitman.
This award made Ernest known to the public for his work and accomplishments. Ernest Just continued working on his Ph. D. in Chicago and made sacrifices to obtain it. He took courses in the fall, winter, and spring terms at the University of Chicago. At the end of the spring quarter the department accepted two of Just’s articles as the main text for his doctoral thesis. He received his diploma in June and took a two month rest instead of visiting the MBL like he usually did. He joined the MBL at Woods Hole, Massachusetts with his Ph. D. in hand.
He was elected to many groups and published numerous articles and also made findings that would challenge great scientist like Loeb. Ernest Just first encountered prejudice after graduation at MBL. His role became more prominent and as he gave speeches about embryology and taught other investigators his techniques. Just’s relationships with some of the other scientist, who were not African American, was strained because of racial prejudice. In one incident he was asked not to attend a social gathering celebration because he was African American, and was not welcomed at the social event.
Just went anyway, and even though his friends protected him from racism, he still left with feelings of bitterness. Ernest soon left the MBL for researches in Europe and he found himself more comfortable there then he was in the U. S. Upon leaving Europe Ernest and his wife suffered great difficulty because they were trying to leave France and had an incident with German Nazis. He was put into a camp, but was released by his new wife’s father. He returned to the U. S. to live the remainder of his life.
Dr. Percy L. Julian was known as one of the finest African American chemists. Since 1976 his birthday has been a holiday for the Village of Oak Park, a fashionable suburb of Chicago where the Julian family has resided since 1950, the Julian home, the first in the neighborhood to be owned by a black family, was the victim of arsonists on Thanksgiving Day and the target of a dynamite bomb on June 12, 1951. Percy’s father was a federal employee, but they were still attacked by racism. His education is very similar to Ernest Just, but of course they attended different schools.
To sum his educational career up, he had limited schooling because Montgomery, Alabama provided no public education for blacks after the eighth grade. He entered DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, as a sub-freshman’ and, though ill-prepared, he graduated in 1920 as valedictorian and other honors. He received a M. S. degree from Harvard and three years later, in 1931 he received his Ph. D. from the University of Vienna. Dr. Julian was known for many medical and industrial discoveries. He created a chemical known as compound S; which was a man-made drug similar to Cortisone.
He was the modernized George Washington Carver. Dr. Julian made use of soybean in ways nobody could ever imagine. He made by- products such as paint, paper, drugs, and a number of hormones, vitamins, and amino acids. He also made fire proof solutions and other medicinal solutions to treat glaucoma. In all, Dr. Julian’s work created over a hundred patents. Dr. Julian’s father didn’t want him to get too caught up in the idea of becoming a chemist, because he knew that African Americans were barred from the field as a rule, except teaching positions at all- black schools.
He wanted Julian to prepare for medicine and setup a practice so he could be independent. This would have worked, but Julian wanted to pursue his dreams of becoming an aspiring chemist. At one point he was president of two companies which he formed to produce his medicines. He sold the companies for several millions and remained the chief executive of the labs. He said “I have had one goal in my life, that of playing some role in making life a little easier for the persons who come after me. ”
Dr. Anna Julian was a remarkable woman; she was a former sociology professor at Howard University, served on the Women’s Board at the University of Chicago, and served two terms as Chairperson of the Board of Trustees at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. Dr. Anna Julian was the Nation Chapter Establishment Chairperson for Links Inc. , a large National Organization for Black Professional Women. This same organization made contributions of $800,000 to the United Negro College Fund. Even with her busy schedule Dr. Anna Julian found time to give speeches to the children of Oak Park and spend time with her husband.
There are many faces of African Americans in the science field. They may not receive the recognition they deserve, but their contributions have made life more enjoyable and comfortable for the people all over the world. There are various types of funds available to help African Americans who wish to pursue a career in science. The Development Fund for Black Students in Science and Technology still exists and they are granting financial assistance to African-American undergraduate students enrolled in scientific or technical fields of study at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
This fund was established by a group of concerned black, technical professionals who realized that it is essential to provide financial assistance to talented black students who choose to pursue scientific or technical careers. Additionally, these students are supported at historically black institutions of higher learning, where it has been demonstrated that they will experience the highest rates of retention and graduation. The Merck Company Foundation and the NIH also support African Americans in their scientific education.
The question is when will the African American scientist of the past and present be acknowledged for their contributions? Or will they ever be considered great American historians? There is a shortage of African Americans in the field of science, and there have been several programs established in an effort to encourage more young African Americans to consider a career in the field of science. We can get rid of today’s plagues if there were more powerful thinkers and less ignorance.