In 1936, Brown became the first woman to obtain a private pilot’s license in the U.S. She was part of the National Airmen’s Association of America in 1939 whose sole purpose was to integrate army so that Black pilots could get the chance to fly. In her military career, Brown was an advocate for all Black pilots male or female. Brown became the head of the Civilian Pilot Training Program in Chicago where Black pilots were selected for the Tuskegee training program. She went on to become a coordinator for the Civil Aeronautics Authority and a member of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Women’s Advisory Board.
Janet Bragg (March 24, 1907 — April 11, 1993)
Bragg was the first woman admitted to Curtiss-Wright School of Aeronautics in Chicago in 1928 and to hold a commercial pilot’s license. Bragg was rejected from four different organizations based on race. This rejection may have lead to her second career path as a registered nurse. After graduating from Spelman College, Bragg went to Illinois and continued practicing as a nurse until becoming an insurance health inspector in 1941.
Dorothy Layne McIntyre (b. Jan. 27, 1917)
At 22 years-old, Layne McIntyre became the first Black woman to earn a pilot’s license under the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA). She ended up going into aircraft mechanics at the Baltimore War Production school.
Weems has been a photographer and artist since the 1965 and her work has been featured in over 50 exhibits throughout her career. In 1983, she created her first collection of photographs and spoken word called, Family Pictures and Stories. Some of her other works include, Sea Island Series (1991-92), the Africa Series (1993), From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried (1995-96), Who What When Where (1998), Ritual & Revolution (1998), the Louisiana Project (2003), Roaming (2006) and others. Weems has earned many awards for her work, including becoming a MacArthur Fellow in 2013.
James Van Der Zee (June 29, 1886 – May 15, 1983)
Van Der Zee was a major artist in the Harlem Renaissance. During the 1920s, he documented some of the most famous Black people of the time, including Florence Mills, Hazel Scott, Marcus Garvey, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Countee Cullen and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Even though his work was popular, Van Der Zee never garnered major financial success. In the 1970s, he went back to portrait photography, photographing celebrities like Bill Cosby, Lou Rawls, Cicely Tyson and Jean-Michael Basquiat.
Celebrating the Life of Physicist Herman Russell Branson
(Aug. 14, 1914 – June 07, 1995)
Branson was a physicist and chemist who was responsible for discovering the alpha-helix protein structure in biological systems. He was educated at Virginia State College in 1936 where he earned a bachelor’s in physics. After graduating, Branson went on to the University of Cincinnati to obtain his Ph.D. in physics. He studied under the direction of Boris Padowski in 1939 who was a confidant of Albert Einstein. Branson and Padowski wrote the research paper On the Quantization of Mass in 1940.
Cinemax’s The Knick shows the bloody and brutal history of 19th and early 20th century medicine in this country in graphic fashion. Algernon Edwards, portrayed by Andre Holland, is the first Black doctor at the New York knickerbocker hospital during a time of extreme lynching and post-reconstruction racism. He faces segregation, bureaucracy and an inhumane level of social immobility but he continues to push through.
Now imagine if it was a Black woman making a name for herself in the 1800s as a medical doctor. You’d be accurate if you were imagining Rebecca Lee Crumpler— the first Black physician in America and the first Black woman to earn a medical degree.
Her Early Life
There is very little information about Crumpler (1831-1895). Documents and photos of her life have been lost to time except for a journal she kept.
Crumpler wanted to enter the medical field but had few opportunities. In the 19th century, being a nurse required little education and was a stepping stone for Black people. Before becoming a doctor, she worked as a nurse, starting in 1852. In order to find work, Crumpler moved to Charlestown, Massachusetts, where she worked for the next eight years.
The African American experience in this country is a winding road with peaks and valleys. Sometimes our schools fail to explore all the nuances and just give basic facts without real substance. To remedy this, there are a plethora of books written by Black writers that dig deep and go further than any classroom history lesson could.
As police brutality and the #Blacklivesmatter movement engulfs the public consciousness, teens and young adults are awake to the world, cultural appropriation, and other areas of Black history. Here are six books to check out.
The synopsis from Amazon states: “The thesis of Dr. Woodson’s book is that African-Americans of his day were being culturally indoctrinated, rather than taught, in American schools. This conditioning, he claims, causes African-Americans to become dependent and to seek out inferior places in the greater society of which they are a part. He challenges his readers to become autodidacts and to “do for themselves,” regardless of what they were taught.”
Walker is a painter and printmaker who has become famous for her paper silhouettes. Her work addresses race, gender, stereotypes and Black history. Walker has made a career out of controversial works that force people to see the ugliness of the world. In 1997, the painter won the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.”
Gwendolyn Bennett (July 8, 1902- May 30, 1981)
Sadly, Bennett was an overlooked poet, painter and writer from the Harlem Renaissance. She was multi-talented in a variety of areas. Bennett worked alongside intellectuals like Alain Locke. In addition to writing and painting, she served as a journalist working for the New YorkHerald Tribune, The New Republic and the New York Amsterdam News.
Massie attended Fisk University. He earned a master’s degree from the university and went on to earn a doctorate in organic chemistry from Iowa State University. Massie is a pioneer in this field because he was the first African-American to teach at a U.S. military academy. In 1966, he became a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he would become chairman of the chemistry department.
There are some stigmas educated Black people have to deal with that other educated groups don’t. You can’t speak proper English or wear clothing outside of hip-hop styles without being labeled as trying to be white. Most people should know that white people don’t have a monopoly on education, intelligence or class.
When people of color have children, they have to decide whether to give their child a name that is stereotypically white or a name representative of their culture and people. “Creative naming has reached every race and class, but it is largely and profoundly the legacy of African-Americans,” writes Eliza Dinwiddie-Boyd in her baby-naming book “Proud Heritage.” However, there are issues with this. In the documentary Freakonomics, economist Steven Levitt put it to the test. People with white-sounding names got more callbacks from future employers than Latinos and African-Americans with non-white names. The facts are clear: racism and prejudice are real. Parents have every right to give their children whatever name they choose, but the world isn’t always an accepting place. Hopefully, one day no one will be judged based on their name, but that day has yet to come.
Most people do not know that there have been Black creators in comics since the 1940s. Most don’t know that there have also been Black characters appearing in the pages of comic books that precede the creation of Black Panther and the Falcon by Marvel Comics. The reality is that Black people have been part of the process, and they could have been just as influential as Jack Kirby and Stan Lee under different circumstances.
Orrin C. Evans
Evans crossed racial boundaries in the comic industry and the world of journalism. He was the first Black person to cover news at an all-white news outlet in the United States. Evans worked at the Philadelphia Record, a now-defunct publication.