Black History Facts

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african_american_history_300x300Celebrating Black History 365 Days a Year
The Upperman African-American Cultural Center

“In celebration of black history month, The Upperman African-American Cultural Center would like to provide a glance of great African-American achievements throughout time.

“Of those mentioned, some may be more well-known than others; however all of their contributions are greatly significant. Their endeavors sought to not only improve the African-American community, but the world in general.


Patricia Bath
Dr. Patricia Bath, an ophthalmologist from New York, but living in Los Angeles when she received her patent, became the first African American woman doctor to receive a patent for a medical invention. Patricia Bath’s patent (no. 4,744,360), a method for removing cataract lenses, transformed eye surgery, using a laser device making the procedure more accurate. Patricia Bath graduated from the Howard University School of Medicine in 1968 and completed specialty training in ophthalmology and corneal transplant at both New York University and Columbia University. In 1975, Bath became the first African-American woman surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center and the first woman to be on the faculty of the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute.

Valerie Thomas
From 1964 to 1995, Thomas worked in a variety of capacities for NASA where she developed real-time computer data systems, conducted large-scale experiments and managed various operations, projects and facilities. While managing a project for NASA’s image processing systems, Thomas’ team spearheaded the development of – Landsat – the first satellite to send images from space. In 1976, Thomas learned how concave mirrors can be set up to create the illusion of a 3-dimensional object. She believed this would be revolutionary if technology could be harnessed to transmit this illusion. With an eye to the future, Valerie Thomas began experimenting on an illusion transmitter in 1977. In 1980, she patented it. In operation, concave mirrors are set up on both ends of the transmission. The net effect of this is an optical illusion of a 3-dimensional image that looks real on the receiving end. This brilliant innovation placed Thomas among the most prominent inventors of the 20th century. NASA continues to use her technology and is exploring ways to use it in surgical tools and possibly television and video.

Dr. Mark Dean
Dr. Mark Dean started working at IBM in 1980 and was instrumental in the invention of the Personal Computer (PC). He holds three of IBM’s original nine PC patents and currently holds more than 20 total patents. [This] famous African-American inventor never thought the work he was doing would end up being so useful to the world, but he has helped IBM make instrumental changes in areas ranging from the research and application of systems technology circuits to operating environments. One of his most recent computer inventions occurred while leading the team that produced the 1-Gigahertz chip, which contains one million transistors and has nearly limitless potential.

Russell Simmons
Russell Simmons took the cultural expression of an impoverished minority and innovated it as a business; by harnessing its economic power, he made it a pervasive element of contemporary life. Dozens of black artists found a national audience, in a movement that not only generated wealth, but also changed America’s understanding of itself. As Simmons once said, describing the diversity among African Americans, “the truth is that everybody doesn’t look like Bill Cosby, and we need to hear the truth, and see the truth, in order for us to know where we’re going, and what our problems are”. Russell Simmons in addition to being a music and fashion mogul is also co-owner of the New Jersey Nets. … ons_hi.htm

Grainville T. Woods
Granville T. Woods (1856-1910) is known to many as “The Black Edison,” because both were great inventors who came from disadvantaged childhoods. But unlike Edison, Woods was considered fortunate to receive an education to help him on the road to his inventions. Among his later inventions was the multiplex telegraph. A success in the powerful railroad industry of the late nineteenth century, the device not only helped dispatchers locate trains, but also allowed moving trains to communicate by telegraph. This invention was so useful that Woods found himself fighting patent suits filed by none other than Thomas Edison. Woods eventually won, but Edison continued to pursue the telegraph by offering Woods a lucrative partnership in one of Edison’s businesses. Woods refused, preferring to be independent.

Thomas Jennings
Thomas Jennings was born in 1791. Thomas Jennings was a free tradesman and operated a dry cleaning business in New York City. He was the first African American to receive a patent, on March 3, 1821 (U.S. patent3306x). Thomas Jennings’ patent was for a dry-cleaning process called “dry scouring”. He was 30 years old when he was granted the patent for this new process. His income went mostly to his abolitionist activities. In 1831, Thomas Jennings became assistant secretary for the First Annual Convention of the People of Color in Philadelphia, PA. … nnings.htm

Earl G. Graves
Earl G. Graves is a nationally recognized authority on Black business development and the founder and publisher of BLACK ENTERPRISE Magazine. In 1972, he was named one of the ten most outstanding minority businessmen in the country by the President of the United States, and received the National Award of Excellence in recognition of his achievements in minority business enterprise. He is also listed in Who’s Who in America, and in 1974, was named one of Time Magazine’s 200 future leaders of the country. In 2002, Mr. Graves was named by Fortune Magazine as one of the 50 most powerful and influential African Americans in corporate America. … vesbio.htm

Oscar Micheaux
Although Micheaux is unknown in the white community, and although many blacks wouldn’t recognize his name, blacks in the movie industry know all about Micheaux – and are grateful for his legacy. The motion picture industry was in the silent film era, and blacks were not welcome in the industry. The only way a black could become a movie producer was to start his own company. Micheaux did just that, and turned his autobiographical novel, The Homesteader, into a movie in 1919. This was the first feature length film produced by an American black. Micheaux produced, directed and wrote at least 43 movies in his life – 27 silent films and 16 sound features.

Kenneth J. Dunkley
Kenneth J. Dunkley is currently the president of the Holospace Laboratories Inc. in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. He is best known for inventing Three Dimensional Viewing Glasses (3-DVG) – his patented invention that displays 3-D effects from regular 2-D photos without any type of lenses, mirrors or optical elements. By studying human vision, Dunkley discovered that blocking two points in a person’s peripheral vision will cause an ordinary picture to appear 3-Dimensional, so he developed his 3-DVG to block out these points. In addition to his 3-DVG invention, Kenneth Dunkley also receives attention for his efforts as a visual pioneer. In Harrisburg, PA, at the Museum of Scientific Discovery, he has conducted visual effects workshops for four years. Dunkley is also a leader in the field of holography.



Dr. Leroy Upperman
Leroy Upperman was born in Jersey City, NJ, in 1913. He graduated from Lincoln University in 1934 with a Bachelor of Science degree, and received his M.D. from Howard University in 1938. From 1939 to 1941, Dr. Upperman was the house physician of Wilmington’s Community Hospital, after which he opened a private practice in general medicine and surgery. For the next fifty years, in addition to operating his private practice, Dr. Upperman was also part of the surgical staff of New Hanover Memorial Hospital (now New Hanover Regional Medical Center). In addition to his lifetime membership in the NAACP and his role as a founding member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Dr. Upperman served the community as a board member of the Community Boys and Girls Club, the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, the New Hanover County Human Relations Commission, the United Way, and the Wilmington Redevelopment Commission. Dr. Upperman was also an advocate for the funding of scholarships and activities to promote the academic achievement and heritage of African American students. The Upperman African American Cultural Center at the University of North Carolina Wilmington is named in his honor. … ms205.html

Rebecca Lee Crumpler
Rebecca Lee Crumpler challenged the prejudice that prevented African Americans from pursuing careers in medicine to become the first African American woman in the United States to earn an M.D. degree. Although little has survived to tell the story of Crumpler’s life, she has secured her place in the historical record with her book of medical advice for women and children, published in 1883. Crumpler was born in 1831 in Delaware, to Absolum Davis and Matilda Webber. An aunt in Pennsylvania, who spent much of her time caring for sick neighbors and may have influenced her career choice, raised her. By 1852 she had moved to Charlestown, Massachusetts, where she worked as a nurse for the next eight years (because the first formal school for nursing only opened in 1873, she was able to perform such work without any formal training). In 1860, she was admitted to the New England Female Medical College. When she graduated in 1864, Crumpler was the first African American woman in the United States to earn an M.D. degree, and the only African American woman to graduate from the New England Female Medical College, which closed in 1873. … hy_73.html

Benjamin Banneker
Benjamin Banneker was an astronomer and surveyor. He showed particular aptitude in math. When Banneker was twenty-one, his abilities were finally utilized. He met a man named Josef Levi who showed him a pocket watch. Banneker was so fascinated that Levi gave him the watch. He studied how it worked, drew a picture of it, and made mathematical calculations for the parts. He worked on building the clock for two years. In 1753, he finally completed it. It was made of wood and its gears were carved by hand. This was the first clock built in the United States. For more than forty years, the clock struck every hour. … eker_b.htm

Benjamin Carson
Benjamin Carson is a pediatric neurosurgeon from Detroit, Michigan. In 1987, Carson made medical history with an operation to separate a pair of Siamese twins. The Binder twins were born joined at the back of the head. Operations to separate twins joined in this way had always failed, resulting in the death of one or both of the infants. Carson agreed to undertake the operation. A 70-member surgical team, led by Dr. Carson, worked for 22 hours. At the end, the twins were successfully separated and can now survive independently. In 1990, Benjamin Carson published his first book, “Gifted Hands”. Gifted Hands is the riveting story of one man’s secret for success, tested against daunting odds and driven by an incredible mindset that dares to take risks.

Joycelyn Elders
Joycelyn Elders was born Minnie Lee Jones in Schaal, Arkansas on August 13, 1933. In college, she changed her name to Minnie Joycelyn Lee (later using just Joycelyn). In 1952, she received her B.A. in biology from Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas. After working as a nurse’s aid in a Veterans Administration hospital in Milwaukee for a period, she joined the Army in May, 1953. During her 3 years in the Army, she was trained as a physical therapist. She then attended the University of Arkansas Medical School, where she obtained her M.D. degree in 1960. After completing an internship at the University of Minnesota Hospital and a residency in pediatrics at the University of Arkansas Medical Center, Elders earned an M.S. in Biochemistry in 1967. Elders became Surgeon General of the Public Health Service on September 8, 1993, appointed by President Clinton. She was the first African American to serve in the position. As Surgeon General, Elders argued the case for universal health coverage, and was a spokesperson for President Clinton’s health care reform effort. She was a strong advocate for comprehensive health education, including sex education, in schools. … elders.htm

Daniel Hale Williams
Daniel Hale Williams was a renowned cardiac surgeon of the 19th century. Because of primitive social and medical circumstances existing in that era, much of Williams early medical practice called for him to treat patients in their homes, including conducting occasional surgeries on kitchen tables. In doing so, Williams utilized many of the emerging antiseptic, sterilization procedures of the day and thereby gained a reputation for professionalism. He was soon appointed as a surgeon on the staff of the South Side Dispensary and then a clinical instructor in anatomy at Northwestern. In 1889 he was appointed to the Illinois State Board of Health and one year later set out to create an interracial hospital. It was later at Provident Hospital that Williams would make medical history by being the first surgeon to perform a successful open heart surgery. It should be noted however that while he is known as the first person to perform an open heart surgery, it is actually more noteworthy that he was the first surgeon to open the chest cavity successfully without the patient dying of infection. His procedures would therefore be used as standards for future internal surgeries.

Charles Richard Drew
Dr. Charles Richard Drew (1904-50) was an African-American physician born in Washington, D.C. He was a surgeon and a professor at Howard University from 1935-36 and 1942-50. He developed a means of preserving blood plasma for transfusion. During World War II he headed the program that sent blood to Great Britain and was the director of the first American Red Cross.

Mae C. Jemison
Astronaut Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman to enter space when she served on the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavor in September 1992. Jemison’s life, however, is also full of terrestrial accomplishments. A high school graduate at the age of 16, she attended Stanford University on a scholarship, graduating with a B.S. degree in chemical engineering and having fulfilled the requirements for an A.B. in African and Afro-American Studies. After graduating from medical school (Cornell University, 1981), Jemison joined the Peace Corps, serving as its area medical officer from 1983 to 1985 in the West African countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia. After serving in NASA from 1987 to 1993, Jemison founded The Jemison Group, Inc., which developed ALAFIYA, a satellite-based telecommunications systems intended to improve health care delivery in developing nations. She also was a professor in the Environmental Studies Program at Dartmouth College, where she directed the Jemison Institute for Advancing Technology in Developing Countries.

Dr. Ida Gray
Dr. Gray was born in 1867 in Clarksville, Tennessee, but received most of her education in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was in Cincinnati that she established her first dental practice. Dr. Gray received a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from the University of Michigan in 1890, becoming the first black woman in the United States to hold this degree. Dr. Gray moved to Chicago, and in 1895 became its first female dentist. … aspx#Lucas

Mary Eliza Mahoney
Mary Eliza Mahoney was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts. She became the first Black trained nurse in the United States, graduating from the New England Hospital for Women and Children in 1870. Mary’s training was not easy out of her nursing class of 18 trainees, only four students received their diploma and Mary Eliza Mahoney was one of them. Mary’s training included medical, surgical, maternity and private duty lectures and instructions by doctors. Mary not only had to endure hard studies, but also had the pressure of discrimination. In spite of it all, she had an excellent grade record. She was the leader who opened doors for other Black nurses, working for many years as a private duty nurse. Mary was a member of The National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses, where she served as Chaplain and had a life membership. She served with the New England Hospital Alumnae Association, supported women’s suffrage, and was the first Black woman registered to vote in Boston. For her remarkable achievements in nursing, The National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses established The Mary Mahoney Award. This award is given in her honor by The American Nurses Association, for vital contributions to intergroup relations. These women are unique in the medical profession. They are achievers whose innovations, skills and characters have made many contributions to our country.

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