Katherine Johnson, born August 26, 1918 in White Sulphur Springs West Virginia, helped the United States go to the moon. A natural math genius and excellent student, Katherine started school in the 2nd grade (not kindergarten), and graduated High School at 14 years of age. Her parents moved her family 125 miles away from home in search of the education they knew she and her siblings needed, and Katherine lived up to that dream.
In College, her favorite professor created a special course in Analytic Geometry just for her. She was bright. Graduating Summa Cum Laude (the highest honor) with two degrees in Math and French, Katherine enrolled in West Virginia University to earn an graduate degree in Math. She was one of the first African Americans to enroll, but could not complete due to family obligations.
Katherine became a teacher, one of the few career options for women then. She left to marry and start a family. But Katherine in 1953 really wanted to go back to work, and went to join the early iteration of NASA (then called NACA). NASA then was specifically looking for African American women who would check the math and do calculations for engineers. Katherine would be key to NASA and the first US Space Flights!
Katherine didn't just check the math, her math was the basis for spaceflights. Katherine was one of the few who actually had the right training and intellect, and became part of the Spacecraft Controls Branch. In 1959, Katherine was the one to calculate the trajectory for Alan Shepard's flight, the first American in Space. In 1962, NASA used computers to chart John Glenn's orbit around earth, but NASA insisted on Katherine's personal verification of the math the computer came up with before allowing the John Glen to go up. In 1969, Katherine was also the one to calculate the Apollo 11 flight to the moon. It was one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind, with Katherine's massive intellect as part of the process along the way.
Today, Katherine lives in Hampton, Virginia, has six grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and loves to play piano and bridge. Beyond helping the US go to the moon, Katherine has several honorary degrees, has co-authored many research papers, and is an excellent example of how wonderful our minds can be.
Maggie L. Walker let nothing stand in her way. Born July 15, 1864 to a slave in Richmond, Virginia - the Capital of the Confederacy - Maggie went on to found a national bank, and forever gives us a glimpse into our own power and potential.
Maggie's mother was a slave. Maggie's biological father was a young Irish Immigrant and confederate soldier. Eventually Maggie's mother, Elizabeth, went onto marry a fellow servant, William Mitchell in 1868 and little four year old Maggie took her new fathers name. In 1876, her step-father was murdered, and her mother, now a young widow, washed laundry to make ends meet, so Maggie helped.
Maggie went to school in Richmond, and in 1883 and became an elementary school teacher. She married soon after and, as went the times (married teachers were not allowed to teach) she resigned. However she had more callings and energy. In the time of Jim Crow with lack of resources and serious racism, she wanted to help her community. Maggie joined her local social organization, the Order of Saint Luke, which gave support and services to the community. She helped shape it into a financially vibrant, national instrument for economic growth, at a time when there were not many resources for blacks at all. Maggie then started a newspaper, named the Saint Luke Herald, as well as a store. Maggie kept trying different things and met many people along the way, like Mary McLeod Bethune, with whom she became great friends.
Maggie was very aware of the need for financial access in order for the Black community to develop, and Blacks were consistently denied access to capital. She took action and chartered a Bank based in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia in 1903, giving Blacks access to much needed Home and Business loans. It was a success! Her bank, named the Saint Luke's Penny Savings Bank, lasted through the Great Depression, grew into The Consolidated Bank & Trust Company. Maggie's bank was the longest operating Black owned bank until 2009 when (during our most recent recession where many banks were consolidated) it was acquired by Premier Bank in a multi Bank deal.
Maggie served as President and Chairwoman until her death in 1934. Adversity did not stop her: she was born to a slave before the Civil War ended, her step-father was murdered, her husband died, in later years she was in a wheelchair and lost use of her legs due to diabetes. And through all of this Maggie stayed active, was an incredible businesswoman, and provided a positive and much needed foundation for Black financial success. Maggie holds an incredible record in US Financial and Banking History, and a formative place in the lives of so many black families that she was able to help with her bank.
Best Quote: "I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but a laundry basket practically on my head."
Mahalia Jackson made us see that we all have something so pure in us that we can touch the world and create understanding and joy where there was none before.
Born Mahala Jackson on October 26th, 1911 as the third child of Charity and Johnny Jackson, Mahalia grew up in a three room house, shared by 13 family members and one dog. Already born into poverty, Mahalia was orphaned by 5 and raised by a strict Aunt, and little Mahalia began working from sunup to sundown. I am sure Mahalia would have loved to go to school, but unfortunately that was not an option for her. Fortunately Mahalia was involved in Church and loved to sing, her little voice could be heard around the block at church.
Like so many other Southern Blacks of the time, Mahalia was part of the Great Migration North in search of jobs. She went to Chicago at 16 to train as a nurse. Being heavily involved in the church (her father was a Baptist Minister) she joined a new church in her new city and their Choir, and began performing. Mahalia is a great, so in little time she began touring and working with Gospel composers and other artists. Success was not immediate, nor could it be at that time; Mahalia was a black artist, in a black genre during the depression. She took jobs as a laundress and beautician before her career took off.
In 1947 at the age of 36, her first big hit was "Move On Up a Little Higher" selling millions, and becoming the biggest gospel single in history. A performance at Carnegie Hall in 1950 followed. In 1952 she toured Europe and in 1954 CBS gave her her own gospel program. The 1950s saw Mahalia at the peak of Fame Internationally. While Gospel was not new in the Black Community, this kind of success through gospel was. In fact, the Grammy Awards created the Gospel category for her, based on her incredible, international achievements.
The 1950's, when Mahalia was at the height of her fame and earnings power which she could not have imagined growing up, Mahalia chose to use her personal power and her big heart to help Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. In 1956, despite death threats, Mahalia went to Montgomery, Alabama for a concert to raise money for the movement. These were violent times when Civil Rights Leaders were being attacked and their homes bombed, but 15 days after the concert, the Federal Government made Alabama follow the law and desegregate buses. Mahalia regularly sang before Dr Martin Luther King Jr. took the stage and joined him on some incredibly challenging trips, this was her way of lending support and attention.
Mahalia's popularity only grew. Mahalia was chosen to sing for John F. Kennedy's inauguration in 1961. In the famous March on Washington in 1963, Mahlia sang right before her friend and colleague Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took the stage to deliver one of the most famous speeches in history, the "I Have a Dream" Speech. A little known fact of that speech is that Mahalia yelled out to him towards the end "Tell them about the dream, Martin!" at which point the speech took an incredible and memorable turn where 'I have a dream' is repeated as a punctuation to the story.
She is the voice of a time in our country that has meaning recognized around the world. She is a talent that delivered some of the most important political moments in our nation's history. She also enjoyed an incredible and celebrated career: Lifetime Grammy & Hall of Fame Awards, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Walk on the Hollywood Hall of Fame, a theater in New Orleans named after her, performed in movies and TV. Mahalia most importantly teaches us that being commercially successful allows you to run with your passions and help be a voice to bring good to the world.
This is what the CEO of a $56 Billion dollar, 112,000 employee company looks like. And a scientist too. Rosalind G. Brewer is the youngest of 5 children, raised in Michigan. Roz and her siblings were the first generation in her family to go to college.
With a BA in Chemistry from Spelman, a graduate degree from University of Chicago Booth School of Business/Stanford Law, and management programs conducted at Wharton, Rosalind Brewer began her career well armed and headed to work as a scientist at Kimberly Clark, a $21 Billion dollar consumer goods company. After a strong 22 year career, Roz was tapped to be VP of Walmart for Georgia. Two years later she became CEO of the Sam's Club division, globally, for Wal Mart.
Rosalind also serves on the Board of Directors for Lockhed Martin, a global aerospace, defense, security and advanced technology company. Additionally, Rosalind is Chair (most powerful member) of the Board of Directors for her alma mater, Spelman College. Rosalind is married with two children.
What a beautiful voice. Audra McDonald was born in Germany in 1970 and raised in Fresno, California. At a young age, Audra was considered “hyperactive” and was encouraged to study acting to help balance her energy. Thank goodness she did! Audra went to a performance High School, joined an acting troupe and then went on to Julliard in New York to study and perfect her voice. Audra graduated in 1993 at the age of 23 and went to work. One year after graduating, she won her first Tony! Of course she kept going, and before she turned 30 years old, Audra already won 3 Tony Awards.
While that’s incredible, it’s a good lesson to keep working. In 2014, Audra became the very first person to win 6 Tony Awards for Acting - this is more than any other actor - and the very first person to win in all four acting categories. She has also won 2 Grammy’s.
Audra loves what she does, and there are so many accolades and performances we’d love to highlight: 23 Stage Awards, 12 Broadway Plays, 7 Movies, 5 Solo Albums, 3 Audio Books and 2 Grammy’s. As well as appeared in several TV series, live recordings solo performances in Carnegie Hall, performances with the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Opera House, Houston Opera, Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, San Francisco Symphony… the list goes on, and she still has many, many years in her career ahead of her.
Going back to voice we love: while winning her record 6th Tony for portraying Billie Holiday in 2014, she thanked those sisters who came before her and paved the way saying in part, "I am standing on Lena Horne's shoulders. I am standing on Maya Angelou's shoulders. I am standing on Diahann Carroll and Ruby Dee, and most of all, Billie Holiday. You deserved so much more than you were given when you were on this planet. This is for you Billie."
Audra, we look forward to seeing what the next generation can do thanks to all you are achieving today.
Unbought and Unbossed. Strong words from a strong heart. Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisolm was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1924 to loving immigrant parents from Barbados and Guiana, factory and domestic workers, and went on to a spectacular political career.
Chisholm is remembered as the first Black Woman elected to United States Congress. Shirley should also be remembered for holding her head high and moving forward with what is right. When in College the Black members of the debate team were denied access to a social event, so Chisolm founded her own new debate team. When new to Congress she was assigned to the Agriculture Committee, an obvious slight (given she was from and representing Brooklyn, NY), Chisholm shocked many but simply asked for a re-assignment. Eventually, Chisholm went to Veterans Affairs and the Education and Labor Committee.
In 1972, four years after entering the US Congress, Chisholm ran for President of the United States of America. She won 430,703 votes in the Democratic Primary with votes registered in 14 states. Not enough votes to win the Democratic Nomination and run head to head with the Republican Candidate, but certainly enough to be “remembered as a woman who lived in the 20th century and who dared to be a catalyst of change”, her wish.
After 14 years serving in the U.S. Congress, Chisholm became a professor of Politics and Sociology at Mount Holyoke College and then at Spelman College.
We have much to remember Shirley by, including The Shirley Chisholm Center for Research on Women at Brooklyn College, 2 Books, induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and of course the legislation she fought hard for. Chisolm introduced over 50 pieces of legislation, including securing rights for domestic workers, the Comprehensive Child Development Bill, fighting for inner city residents, was a voice of opposition on the Vietnam War, the Draft, reductions in Military spending and increases in Education, Health Care and so on. Chisholm was also a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971, as well as the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1972.
Bravo Ms. Chisholm, and thank you.
The stars were literally shining on Dacatur, Alabama on October 17th, 1956. Dr. Mae Jemison born just 2 years after Brown vs Board of Education, and went on to be our first Black Female astronaut in 1992.
Mae was a superior student and talented dancer who enrolled in Stanford University at just 16 years of age. Mae took a challenging course load, graduating with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Chemical Engineering, as well as fulfilling the coursework for a BA in African American Studies. Mae loved dance and the arts, nurturing her talent through rigorous practice, to the point that she considered moving to NY for a professional career in dance. But, she did not want to give up science, and so went on to Cornell Medical School. Proving that pursuing interests is a beautiful part of life and keeps us sharp, while in Med School, Mae simultaneously took classes at the Alvin Ailey School of Dance.
Medical School led to 2 years in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone and Liberia. After the Peace Corps, Mae continued to do good and worked in Camodian refugee camps where she saved many, many lives. Later, Mae, eager for what was her dream, applied to NASA in 1983 but was unfortunately turned down. But that’s OK, Mae just applied again and in 1987 was accepted!
September 12 – 20, 1992 Dr. Mae Jamison got to do what so few did, she was a NASA astronaut flying aboard the spaceship Endeavor. Mae's role on the spaceship was to ensure the success of the launch, maintain the software, and to manage several science experiments.
After her time with NASA as an astronaut, Mae had many incredible achievements, a list of a few are below:
· Mae founded The Jemison Group, the goals of which were to help improve health care in West Africa, collect and improve on solar thermal energy and the expand and improve the use of satellite based communication to help facilitate coordinating medical care across the region.
·Mae acted in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, making her the only real astronaut ever on Star Trek.
·Mae was the host and technical consultant of the Discovery Chanel's "World of Wonder".
·Mae founded two of her own tech companies, and created an International Science Camp teaching critical thinking skills. Princeton, DePaul, Rensselear Polytechnic Institute, Dartmouth, and 5 other Universities have included this education on their campuses.
·In 1999, Mae founded the BioSentient Corporation. Having experience with the NASA techniques that use biofeedback and autogenic therapy to ensure the NASA team in orbit would remain relaxed (as it's an incredibly physical experience) Mae saw an opportunity to help even more people. Her company obtained the license from NASA to use their technology previously available onto to an elite few, in order to develop a portable device to help manage stress, migraine headaches, nausea, hypertension and a wealth of other ailments that many more people would have access to.
·In 2012, Mae received a $500,000 grant from the US Department of Defense to work on technologies to bring space flight beyond it's current abilities, and past our solar system.
·All this, and Mae was also selected as one of People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful people in the world and awarded 9 honorary doctorates.
And the dance career that Mae once dreamed of? In her spare time, Mae went on to choreograph and produce several shows of modern jazz and African dance.
Best Quote: “Martin Luther King didn’t just have a dream, he got things done.”
Alice Walker is the first African American Woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature, but as she said, not the first to deserve it. Alice is a world renowned Author and she specifically writes African American Literature.
Alice was born February 9th, 1944 in Putnam County, Georgia. She was the youngest of 8 children, born to a sharecropper father and mother who worked as a maid in discriminatory Jim Crow times. Times such as when a white plantation owner coldly said to her mother that black children have no need for education, to which her mother said "don't you ever come around here again talking about how my children don't need to learn to read and write". Well, little Alice was enrolled in the first grade early, and went on to be Valedictorian of her high school. It's always hard for the underprivileged, but the privilege was the love and support of a mother who worked 11 hours a day for $17 a week to help pay for Alice's college, starting at the historically black Spelman College.
Alice's first book of poetry was written while still in College. Alice didn't only write, she also volunteered in voter registration drives in Georgia in the 1960's, and worked in the Welfare Department in New York City. Alice is a writer with an incredible connection to the lives of black women. Part of this is includes her work in 1975 for Ms. Magazine. Alice used her platform working for a big, national magazine to give honor and respect to one of the most influential African American authors, Zora Neal-Hurston. Zora Neal-Hurston was one of those ladies Alice mentioned as truly deserving the highest awards for literature. Born in 1861, Zora's work was incredible, but given the times, died penniless, and her work not given the respect it deserved. Alice's article on her helped rekindle national attention.
Alice's first novel came in 1970, and her second in 1976 focusing on civil rights workers in the South. Third time was a charm with "The Color Purple" in 1982, which was a breakthrough to a broader audience highlighting to the world the experiences and double jeopardy of a black woman with tough circumstances trying to live through a racist system and a black patriarchal culture. What was special was she delivered this very hard subject matter in a way people could start to understand, even if they never could or thought to before. Her book became a best seller, was adapted into a movie, and later a Broadway Musical.
Rewarded with her story being heard, Alice co-founded Wild Tree Press, a feminist publishing company and has remained an activist for years. She herself has published over 24 novels, and 10 poetry collections.
Alice's papers and manuscripts are being preserved at Emory University, and Alice at the age of 70, continues to focus on being a political voice. Alice continues to work and release new books.
Clementine was born just 60 years after the Civil War, around 1886 (the records were not as clear for poor blacks then). Born on a plantation to a sharecropper & tenant farmer father, Clementine was the oldest of 7 children. She grew up in "Hidden Hill" a tough place said to be the inspiration for Uncle Tom's Cabin. Clementine was only able to receive 10 days of schooling in her whole life, and lived illiterate. It was a tough life.
Clementine came across painting and thankfully some art supplies left at the plantation, and that was the start of magic. A fully self taught artist, Clementine went on to became legend. Her 4000 - 5000 works are a major part of American folk art and chronicled plantation life. She was poor, and lived in poverty most of her life. Not able to afford paint, she painted when people brought her supplies. She painted on cardboard. She painted for 25 cents. She just painted.
Eventually her works gained a huge following. Letters from The White House, letters from Senators, an Honorary Degree of Fine Arts. Exhibits came too. Sadly, one exhibit in her honor she could not attend as it was segregation times - even though the celebration was for her work, she was black and could not attend. But Clementine just kept going on.
With all this attention, but lack of rights and resources, Clementine was a target for forgery. But people absolutely loved and fought for her work, and brought it to the attention of the FBI, who caught the offender. Through all this, Clementine stands tall in the art world, well loved and a big influence on American art. While born only 20 years after slavery legally ended, and lived in poverty, at the age of 98 Clementine was able to buy her first parcel of land and moved her trailer there.
A big, big influence and a lesson that under any circumstance, while not easy, you can achieve greatness by following your dreams.
Wilma Rudolf was born June 23rd, 1940 in Tennessee, and was one of 22 children. Wilma was also born premature, just 4.5 pounds, at a time when medicine was not as advanced as today. At four, Wilma contracted Polio (infantile paralysis) and due to how damaging this was to her body, was forced to wear a clunky metal braces and endure many surgeries. For two years, she and her mother traveled 50 miles twice a week for intensive hospital care. She needed a lot of care, and family took turns massaging her then crippled legs.
Wilma suffered additional polio attacks and also scarlet fever (which untreated can kill). But little by little, her health improved and the braces came off after age 12. Eventually, Wilma, like most little siblings, wanted to run track like her big sister, but she was a little shaky, she was only just starting to walk naturally. Her father told the coach they were a packaged deal, and had to take both girls, and so Wilma was accepted to her very first track team. And Wilma worked hard.
Who knew this little girl who was so sick most of her life, and fought paralysis for years would go on to compete in the Olympics at the age of 16, just 4 years after walking unaided. Wilma competed in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia and won a bronze medal in track! A natural athlete was behind all of those years of trauma, but it was hard work and strength that led to her incredible rise.
Times were different for athletes then, especially poor black athletes. Wilma just won an Olympic Medal, but her house did not have indoor plumbing. Wilma had to borrow a dress for her prom. At 17, Wilma became pregnant and did not run track her formative senior year of high school. An incredibly strong family, her sister took care of her baby so Wilma could go to college, grow, and keep training.
At 20 and in her second Olympics, Wilma became a global legend. Wilma won an unprecedented 3 Gold Medals in the 1960 Olympics in Rome for Track, and in doing so, became the very first woman to ever win 3 Gold Medals at a single Olympics. She also did this while breaking 3 different world records. Nothing like this had ever happened, and Wilma became world news. And of course, none of her competitors had spent more than half of their lives unable to walk. It was the first Summer Olympics televised in the US, before the Civil Rights bill was even written, and the images were incredible and new. Wilma Won. Cassius Clay won Gold. Abebe Bilika from Ethiopia won Gold in the men's marathon barefoot. Wilma's story is still unforgettable, she was beautiful, elegant and the world loved her.
When she returned home to Clarksville, Tennessee, her homecoming parade and banquet were Clarksville's first fully integrated events in city history. Wilma did not live in an age of major endorsements like today. She returned to home, married and became a school teacher in her own elementary school, eventually coaching youth program. Sadly Wilma passed in 1994 of brain cancer, but what she accomplished has inspired and paved the way for so many, and will live on.
The 2012 Summer Olympics saw the rise of a tiny and talented phenomenon, Gabby Douglas, who blew us and her competition away in the incredibly difficult sport of Gymnastics. Gabby won 2 Olympic Gold Medals, becoming the first African American in Olympic History to win Gold in the Individual All-Around, and the first American Gymnast ever to win Gold in both the Individual and team at the same Olympics, all at the age of 17.
Gabby was always promising, but success only comes with a lot of work. At the age of 6, her older sister was already in gymnastics and saw that Gabby had something special, so her sister convinced their mom to let Gabby join the class. In two years, at the age of 8, Gabby started competing and won her first all around title in the Virginia State Championship.
At the age of 12, Gabby made her first National debut. She placed 10th. Gabby kept competing, but did not win every time, nobody does. Her next meet, she placed 16th and was not eligible to join the Junior Women's Team. She then spent a little time injured, but Gabby kept working away.
At the age of 14, Gabby made the difficult decision to train away from her home and family to try with very targeted coaches in order to really push her to the fullest. It was not an easy move or easy time. Gabby kept going, and little by little, started placing higher and higher in competitions.
2012 was her year - starting with the US Nationals, she won Silver in the All Around. Later at the US Olympic Trials, she placed 1st in the All Around, being the only gymnast guaranteed to go to the Olympics. And the rest is history.
Gabby is training hard and working towards her next Olympics.
Madam C.J. Walker (nee Sarah Breedlove) was born December 23, 1867. Sarah's parents were slaves up until the year before her birth, the year of Emancipation. However their lives changed only slightly as they still worked on the same land and performed the same tasks they always had as slaves. Sarah was also the youngest, so all of her 5 older siblings had been born into slavery. Like many born at the cusp of Freedom, prospects were incredibly bleak. By age 6, both of her parents had died. Little Sarah would live with her sister and brother-in-law who was abusive towards her. By 14, Sarah was married, by 17 had her first and only child, A'Lelia, and by 20 was a widow.
Sarah needed a new, supportive home, and a job. With three brothers in St. Louis, she and her baby packed up and headed there too. Sarah managed to secure a job for herself washing laundry, for $1.25 a day. Securing a better paying job was rare back then for black women. However Sarah kept going with the focus of saving enough money to send her little daughter to school, and she did.
In her late 30's, Sarah's hair began to fall out. Bathing in the 1800's was not as frequent as it is today due to housing, plumbing and resources. If it was hard to take a bath, it was much harder to wash one's hair. For the poor with very poor diets and long, stressful and physical work days, hair often out. Shampoo or hair care lines didn't exist like they do today. Back then, home brewed chemicals and potions were the norm when one did get a chance to wash their hair. However, a consumer goods industry was burgeoning. By 1904 Sarah went to work for a pioneer, Annie Turnbo Malone, selling her hair care products. Eventually, Sarah realized she could have her own line of hair care products.
Sarah wed again to Charles Joseph Walker and was working on her own line of products. She and her husband decided upon the name Madam C.J. Walker for her new beauty product line, her company and for herself. In the early 1900s, whites generally did not address blacks by last name, which is of course insulting. "Madam" was a way to create and spread dignity that would be both seen and spoken.
By 1907, Madam C.J. Walker and her husband were going door to door around the south for a year and a half selling the hair care products, as well as training women on her "Walker Method" of washing and general care. Back then, about 90% of blacks in America lived in the South making the community there key. The black community was of course disadvantaged, but it was strong. Madam's corporate model was influenced by the network of the church, and the concept of staying together. The National Association of Colored Women inspired her as well, so she structured her sales force into state and local teams. Despite her burgeoning wealth, she was not able to stay in hotels since she was black. Staying in the homes of local ministers, prominent doctors and other local leaders positively embedded her in the communities she traveled in, and helped grow her network.
By 1910 her business was thriving, she moved to Indianapolis, set up her new headquarters, her factory, and beauty school where she would train her sales staff. There was a central message of pride, respect and empowerment in the training, as her sales force went out into communities and homes, this message was spread over and over.
While Madam enjoyed the good life, she didn't want the money to just be a millionaire for her own pleasure, but for the good she could do with it. Below are just a few amazing things she did do with it:
· Madam employed a team of 25,000 black women at the turn of the 1900's, who would have otherwise only been able to earn about $2 per week in domestic work due to the jobs open to black women back then. But Madam C.J. Walker paid $25 per week to her team. This absolutely transformed the earning power and comfort of black families all across the country, and of course, those wanting black labor would now have to start paying more to entice these workers. An estimated 40,000 black women in total worked for Madam C.J. Walker over the years. Paying a fair wage did not hurt success.
· Rewards to her sales teams were based not only on their sales, but on their philanthropic and educational work as well - it was a united definition of success new to businesses in that era.
· Madam personally sent 6 students a year to Tuskegee institute in Hampton, VA.
· Madam also personally financed the education of blacks throughout various Northern and Southern colleges, in today's dollars her contributions to these students would be $130,000 in annual scholarships.
· Home ownership is crucial to wealth development, and blacks could not get mortgages. So, Madam C.J. Walker personally financed the homes for many black families, allowing them to pay back "when and what they could".
· For her homes in Harlem and along the mansion on the Hudson River, she, always supporting fellow blacks, employed Architect Vertner Tandy, the first licensed Black architect in NY State. The home he created for her up the Hudson is now a National Landmark.
· 2/3 of her estate and wealth were donated to black specific foundations and charities upon her death, the other 1/3 stayed in her family.
What a life. Her obituary by the New York Times in 1919 remarked that her fortune was amassed in twelve short years, staring from just little over a dollar a day. That kind of spirit, focus and desire to create a fair business structure benefitting her own people is even more telling based on the incredible success she achieved. Madam was one of a kind, and remains a lesson to us all today.
Favorite quote: "I am a woman that came from the cotton fields of the South. I was promoted to wash tub. Then I was promoted to cook kitchen. I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing."
Diana Earnestine Earle Ross was born in Detroit in 1944. Known for a breakthrough musical career as lead singer of the Supremes, which in the 1960s was the group that helped Motown Records, a black owned business, gain strength and success. It’s important to remember that The Supremes rivaled the Beatles for global popularity before Civil Rights in the United States. Diana Ross and the Supremes helped pave the way for future Black artists.
Born to a school teacher mother and Army dad, Diana’s early life was busy with school. At the age of 8, the family moved to the Brewster Douglas housing projects and young Diana was ready for the world. Diana graduated High School one semester early, attending a magnet school in Detroit, was part of the swim team, had many extra curricular activities, and also held a part time job.
Once signed to Motown, it took 2 years of hard work and practice, but it took a long time before a hit came. Diana finally broke through in the charts with “Where Did Our Love Go” and then the rest is history. Diana Ross is one of the most iconic performers in history, with incredible international success. What took a little longer was to be recognized with a Grammy, her first and only given in 2012 for Lifetime Achievement Award.
In between came:
2 songs Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, 1 star Hollywood Blvd, 1 inauguration into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1 Central Park Playground named after her, 22 solo albums, 33 albums with The Supremes, 5 movies, 100 Million Records sold, Billboard Magazine “Female Entertainer of the Century”, 1 Golden Globe and 1 Oscar Nomination for “Lady Sings the Blues”, 1 Broadway play, 1 performance at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, and a Kennedy Center Awards held at the White House for Career Achievements
With tours in 2010 and 2013, bringing her to the age of 69 and continuing to work, you show us how beautiful perseverance can be.
Dr. Christine M. Darden was born on September 10th, 1942 in Monroe, North Carolina and went on to be a leader in Sonic Boom technology at NASA. With parents believing strongly in education for her and her 4 siblings, Christine graduated Valedictorian of Allen High School in 1958 (prior, was named the Allen School for Negro Girls). Christine won a scholarship to Hampton University, earning a degree in Mathematics Education in 1962. Her father encouraged her to be a teacher as he wanted for her to have a steady job.
Christine had incredible intellectual curiosity. By 1963 she married fellow teacher, Walter L. Darden Jr. By 1965, she became a research assistant at Virginia State College, earning her Masters in Applied Math, while maintaining her teaching job.
Just 2 years later, Christine got a job at NASA as a data analyst solving math problems and writing computer programs. Christine would soon be on the forefront of technology! In six years, Christine was promoted to AeroSpace Engineer. Incredibly, she also went back to school to earn her PhD in Fluid Mechanics while working full time and being promoted at NASA.
At NASA, Christine thrived. In 1989, Christine developed the Sonic Boom research program at NASA with title of Technical Leader, a new division of the High Speed Research Program. Sonic Boom was a big topic as the speed planes could travel was increasing, but plane and wing structure had to adapt as the sound was disruptive as the speeds got faster. The technology needed to improve. Christine led the research at NASA, and coordinated universities, private institutions and the aviation industry around this research.
In her 40 year career at NASA, Christine also contributed to different divisions around High Speed technology, was Deputy Manager of the TU-144 (the high speed Russian supersonic aircraft), led the "Experiments Program" and research in Air Traffic Management. Christine also served on many private government projects, and authored over 50 publications on wing design, flap design, and sonic boom prediction and minimization. NASA awarded Christine the Certificate of Outstanding Performance 10 times between 1973 and 2003.
WOW. What a career. And as a mother of three, grandmother of five, and great grandmother of three, an incredible inspiration. Next time you see a plane go by, you can know that Christine's scientific work contributed to that.
So many firsts! Carol Moseley Braun is the first and only African-American woman elected to the US Senate. The first woman to defeat an incumbent US Senator in an election. The first and only woman senator from Illinois. And the first African-American senator for the Democratic party. For her entire time serving in the United States Senate, Carol Moseley Braun was the only African-American Senator.
Born in Chicago in 1947, Carol attended public schools and lived in the segregated South Side of Chicago. Majoring in Political Science at University Illinois, Chicago and earning her JD from University of Chicago Law School in 1972.
Her early career was as a prosecutor focusing on housing, health policy and environmental law. 1978 saw her to the Illinois House of Representatives and she became known as a champion of social rights and causes.
Moseley Braun in the 1980's fought to end death penalties in Illinois. And in an incredible landmark case, she brought to light the cutting up of Black Voting districts into "the absolute minimum number of districts in which they could have a voting majority". And for the Hispanic communities, she said, they were "carved up by lines that actually looked like a swastika imposed on the barrios". Well, she successfully sued her own Democratic Party and the State of Illinois and won in Crosby vs State Board of Elections on behalf of black and latino voters. What this meant was a core tenant in being a citizen, voting, could not unjustly be taken away from a group by forcing the voice to be a minority vote through re-mapping, even when they are in fact the majority for that area.
In 1993, she, the sole Black Senator, fought to keep the Confederate Flag from being a part of the United Daughters of the Confederacy even though the Senate already disapproved it's use. With pleas to the US Senate to understand what the symbolism means to African-Americans, she threatened to filibuster "until this room freezes over". Jesse Helms worked to find a way to keep it, but Carol's argument eventually won and the Confederate Flag was no longer allowed.
Economically conservative, she voted for NAFTA, voted for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the constitution, socially she was liberal. Moseley Braun voted against the death penalty, voted for gun control, was only 1 of 14 Senators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act (which prevented gay marriages), she voted against bans on abortions in military bases, and voted against the Communications Decency Act.
In 1999, President Clinton nominated Moseley Braun as US Ambassador to New Zealand. Once again Jesse Helms opposed her nomination, but Mosely-Braun did get confirmed by the Senate and served throughout Clinton's Presidency. The Ambassadorship was her last Federal Position. Carol Moseley Braun ran in 2004 for the Democratic Nomination for President, eventually pulling out and supporting Howard Dean. In 2011, she ran for Mayor of Chicago.
Today, Carol Moseley Braun runs a private Law Firm in Chicago. Her work in law and government has been incredible. Moseley Braun has left a political legacy and a body of work that we hope many young African-American women will follow and build upon.
Doctor Patricia Bath was born November 4, 1942 in Harlem, NYC and went on to become one of the leading eye surgeons in the US. She would develop in the 1980's a patented technology used globally to restore vision to people who in some cases had been blind for decades.
Dr. Bath's parents were Rupert and Gladys Bath. Her mother, of African American roots, was a homemaker who raised her children until they were old enough for school, and then went to earn money through housekeeping. With a deep love of books, her mother encouraged her daughter endlessly. Dr. Bath remembers playing with a microscope bought at Macy's - fitting as she would go to develop her own medical devices! Her father was the first black man to conduct the subway cars for the NYC subway system, was a newspaper columnist, and a merchant seaman helping transport cargo all over the world on large boats.
Patricia Bath was an excellent student, graduating high school early, then graduated Hunter College with a Chemistry Degree in 1964. It was then onto Howard University for Medical School where a soon to be Dr. Bath was President of the Student National Medical Association and won Fellowships from the NIH, National Institutes of Health, among others. After Medical School, she interned back home at Harlem Hospital and served as a Fellow at Columbia. It was there between 1968 - 1970 that her concept of Community Ophthalmology took shape. Harlem Hospital did not have eye surgery as an option for patients back then. She studied the situation, and was able to prov that Blacks were twice as likely to suffer from blindness simply due to poor medical options, and in general suffered, more severe eye problems than the white patients just a few blocks away at Columbia. This was unacceptable. So, Dr. Bath spoke to the professors at Columbia and together they performed the first eye surgeries on patients at Harlem Hospital, for free.
Dr. Bath became very in demand as a lead eye surgeon and professor. She was soon to radically change surgery as well. In 1981, lasers were still fairly new medically. Cataracts, the build up on eyes that happens to us as we age, were still removed by traditional surgery. Dr. Bath was determined to find more comfortable, better ways to operate and restore vision. She traveled to Germany with her daughter, and studied the latest technologies there. Upon returning the the US, Dr. Bath built models, practiced, and worked on perfecting the method and medical devices she created. On May 17th, 1988, Dr. Bath was awarded a US patent for her device, the Laserphaco probe, which allowed lasers to be finessed for delicate eye surgery, becoming the first African-American female to receive a patent for a medical device - her first of four US Patents. Dr. Bath also received patents in Japan, across Europe and in Canada.
Dr. Bath has lead departments and research centers in the US, being the first African-American to do so in many cases. She has lectured all over the world, authored over 100 medical papers, and founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, and served as the White House Council for National and International Blindness Prevention. All of this and doing what she loved, and helping people all over the world.
Bio coming soon...
Dr. Ruth Simmons. First Black President of an Ivy League University 2001 - 2012.
Grapeland, Texas. July 3rd, 1945. The daughter of sharecroppers, in fact the youngest of 12 children in the family, would go on to beat incredible odds, and reach the highest lead some of the most prestigious Universities in the nation, capping her leadership off with 11 years as President of Brown University.
Ruth was born into poverty and as a child would spend her days in school as well as farming along side with her family. Sharecroppers children would go to school when they could, sometimes harvests and the whims of farm owners would take away predictability. Meals she remembered would be in a pail and consist of one biscuit and syrup. Life was hard, and early on, there was no concept that one day she would go on to become Assistant Dean of Graduate Studies at the University of Southern California in 1979, Dean of Finance at Princeton University, Provost (Head) of Spelman College, back to Princeton as Vice Provost at Princeton, President of Smith college, and then finally the first African American President of an Ivy League University, Brown.
Ambitions early on were based on the world she was exposed to. Ruth didn't realize she even could go onto college as a girl, nobody she knew went to college. In fact when she told her mother that she was interested in College as a young girl, her mother was just concerned as there was no way they knew to bridge that divide and pay for any aspect of the education. She said , “I had one goal... if only I could one day work in an office, because every woman that I knew was a maid… The farthest I could think was working in an office. That was it.” In fact this was such a part of the working world she knew that her very fist paid job was as a maid while a student.
Education and curiosity were Ruth's keys to a bigger life. As well as changing times. By her elementary school years, technology and the system of farming her family has been caught caught up in for years was changing. Machines were becoming better and more prevalent, and began replacing some human jobs. Her parents like many, moved to the city in search of new work, but also greater opportunities. Her family made their way to a very segregated part of Houston. They were not accustomed to city life, on top of being very, very poor, kids would tease their accents and clothes. It was not an easy adjustment, but their family support was there. Ruth went to a segregated school in Houston, took to her studies, worked hard, and graduated top of her class. She would enroll in nearby Dillard University, a historically black college, with the help of scholarships. There was plenty of support through love and encouragement, but real financial constraints remained. Some of Ruth's professors had to give Ruth clothes to wear from their own closets to help clothe in basics, not for events, just her and ensure that she was able to attend school.
With the guidance of Professors who saw something special in Ruth, she spent Junior year at Wellesley College in Massachusetts as a visiting student. It was at Wellesley that young Ruth, who was already moved by and understood how the Civil Rights movement was helping her, gained new experiences and saw new systems of the world. She would be very struck by the fact that a woman, Margaret Clapp, was President of Wellesley University. It was the first time Ruth really understood first hand that yes, a woman could hold a position of that much power. It was a subtle experience, simply learning of another woman's career, but it made her understand that perhaps barriers would come down for her as well. That said, Ruth would cite her mother as being the single greatest example in her life. Despite only a small amount of schooling, and working part time as an ironing maid, it was her mother who taught her entirely about dignity, work ethic, and respect. In 1998, Ruth published a beautiful article talking about her mother's influence called "My Mother's Daughter: Lessons I Learned in Civility and Authenticity" which touches on the beautiful memories of her mother, who sadly died when Ruth was only 15, but the strength and elegance she learned from her mother is clear and certainly part of what propelled Ruth throughout her life.
With these influences, her academic career would take off. Returning to Dillard to graduate, Ruth earned a prestigious Fulbright Fellowship - a highly competitive grant paying for education overseas - studying in France for one year, returning to the US to earn her PhD in Romance Languages from Harvard.
Liberal Arts was the focus of Ruth's studies. Liberal Arts provided Ruth the opportunity to try to make sense of the world, of the circumstances she saw as unfair, and how people formed these social structures.
Initially starting as a Professor and focused on Academia, Ruth soon moved into management of the Universities. Some of the highlights of her career include:
At Princeton as Director of Studies, she faced a difficult climate as racial profiling of black students who were being stopped for no reason not only existed, but was on the rise. Ruth decided to enhance and strengthen the African-American Studies program there, recruiting Cornell West, Toni Morrison and Henry Louis Gates Jr. to Princeton. Bringing in such world class talent and scholars helps change dynamics, increase understanding, attract new people and also provide a new future to the community. As well, it provided new ground for important black scholars to connect and work, as well as exposed the community there to the talents and achievements of Blacks.
At Brown as President, her fund raising skills were incredible. She brought in the single largest donation in Brown's history, and was able to introduce need blind admissions for students to Brown.
One role, she learned that her salary was lower than a male employee's despite her more senior role, and she stood up for herself. While unclear if the salary was adjusted, the act of standing up for yourself is powerful and an important practice.
In 1995, Ruth became President of Smith College, and all women's college in Massachusetts, Ruth created the first Engineering program and the first Finance program for the college in response to the lack of women in those industries.
Ruth was also elected to the boards of several major companies and foundations: Goldman Sachs, Board Member. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Director. Texas Instruments, Director. Bill and Melinda Gates Millennium Scholars Foundation, Advisory Council.
"What helped me growing up is that somehow, I know that this world I lived in, the world of segregation and bigotry, wasn't really the real world. I knew that. And what I had to do was go outside it. And that's what everybody has to do. They have to find a way to be a part of that larger world. If they do that.. they'll be better in every respect if they have that broader purview."
Most of us have heard of Amelia Earhart or the Wright Brothers, but have you heard the story of Bessie Coleman?
Elizabeth "Bessie" Coleman was born with long odds but did incredible things in this world. January 26th, 1892 Bessie was born in Atlanta, Texas and like many of our heroines, was born into a large, poor family in the South in the 1800s. Bessie was the 10th of 13 children to parents were sharecroppers, and whose parents before were slaves. When it was time for school, she actually did have to walk four miles a day to attend the one room, segregated school house. All eight grades were educated in one room, but in that one room the imaginations of all of those children was allowed to grow. Bessie was a great student who excelled at math and was an avid reader. The only thing that could ever interrupt her from school was the system where sharecroppers children had to take off from school to work on the farm during harvest. Otherwise, it was four miles to get to the school she loved.
Bessie would know heartbreak, her father would leave her mother and twelve siblings in hope of better opportunities but left the children to work a little harder to try and financially support the family on their own. Bessie still made it a point to go to school. She took out her own savings to attend college, but simply the money ran out and she had to withdraw. For a girl wit big dreams, this is of course very sad.
Bessie was a natural adventuress, and was determined to find something special to do with her life. Two older brothers, like so many blacks in the early 1900s, moved north for work and opportunities. She joined them. It was 1916, she had two jobs - in a barber shop as a manicurist and in a chili parlor - she was 23 years old, but it was this point in her life that she realized that her dream was to fly. Hearing many former soldiers come back from WWI and talking about their incredible adventures was certainly a part of that. Flying was still in it's early years, and those who knew how to fly were generally white men. A black woman would have a very different experience pursuing her dreams. Bessie did not care, and went after her dream.
Luckily, she knew two black entrepreneurs in Chicago who served as great idea generators in terms of how to pursue her dreams, but also to help financially. Since nobody in the US would allow a black woman into their aviation class, Bessie and her entrepreneur / mentors realized that she would have to go to France to learn, she would be admitted there. They helped to contact the school to gain admissions. Knowing absolutely no French, Bessie took out her little savings and went to the Berlitz school to learn. She then made the trip to NY to get on a steamboat to France. She would be the only non-white student, but she was allowed to learn. After about seven months, Bessie was granted by the Federation Aeronautique International her aviation license on June 15th, 1921. This made Bessie, at the age of 23, the first black - man or woman - licensed pilot in the world.
Bessie returned to the United States eager to be in flying shows, but also with a goal of furthering the rights and dreams of black Americans. Bessie championed blacks learning aviation and having the right to study it. She planned to open an Aviation School herself for African Americans specifically, a big step as none of the existing schools would even admit her.
While she started as a media sensation coming back from France as a black pilot, she immediately became one of the biggest draws in the aviation show circuit. We still have aviation shows today, showing off some of the newest planes, showcasing incredible stunts - Bessie was doing this all in the 1920s. She was really fearless and wowed the crowds, earning the moniker 'Brave Bessie'. She was national news, and would fly across country at the many air shows. And when she did, she'd be sure to stop in at schools to encourage young black students who didn't have a lot of national role models back then, to dream and to pursue that dream. Of course she hoped many would do aviation, but she was giving back and wanted to encourage black youth everywhere. It was the 1920s in the US and segregation was also everywhere. She was an advocate and insisted on ensuring the black students would be allowed the same treatment at her presentations. And they were.
Flying back then was very new, and very risky. Her first major accident was in 1924, and forced her to take many months off to recover. Accidents were a real threat. Her last flight was April 21st, 1926. Bessie met her mechanic who had problems with the plane, but she decided with one day before a big air show to test it out While about 3500 feet in the air, the plane jumped and she was thrown out of the plane, which would crash a few moments after.
Bessie passed at only 34 years of age, but her accomplishments are refusal to accept a system that kept her from her dreams remains an incredible inspiration to us all today and always.