As Black History Month is celebrated, the focus usually tends to be on the more notable figures such as Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, Madam C.J. Walker, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Attention is also given to well-known accomplishments such as Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in major league baseball and Billie Holiday's contribution to the world of jazz. But there are others who are not heard about as often who contributed to life in this country as we know it today.
Alexander Lucius Twilight - the first African American to receive a college degree. Twilight earned a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College in 1823. He was licensed to preach by the Presbyterian Church and served several Congregational churches. He became principal of the Orleans County Grammar School in Brownington, Vermont, and built a massive three-story granite building, Athenian Hall, which became Brownington Academy. In 1836, Twilight was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives and became the first African-American elected to public office and to serve in a state legislature.
William Wells Brown - an American writer who is considered to be the first African-American to publish a novel. He was also the first to have a play published. Brown was born to a black slave mother and a white slaveholding father. He grew up near St. Louis, Mo., where he served various masters, including the abolitionist Elijah P. Lovejoy. Brown escaped in 1834 and adopted the name of a Quaker, Wells Brown, who aided him when he was a runaway. He settled in the Great Lakes region before moving to Boston. Brown published his autobiography 'A Fugitive Slave' in 1847.
Charles Drew - American surgeon that conducted pioneering work in blood storage and transfusion techniques. Drew showed that blood plasma lasts longer than whole blood, a medical breakthrough that enabled the creation of the modern blood bank. In 1939, Dr. Drew used his new understanding of blood storage and transfusion to help establish the first blood banks to serve the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II. He went on to become the first director of the American Red Cross Blood Bank.
Augustus Jackson - inventor of modern ice cream manufacturing and creator of several new flavors around the year 1832. He is known as the "Father of Ice Cream." Augustus Jackson was the head chef in the White House in 1820-30, but later resigned. He moved to Philadelphia to improve ice cream manufacturing processes and create even more new flavors.
Lewis Latimer - best remembered for his key contributions to the incandescent light bulb. In 1881 Latimer patented an electric lamp with an inexpensive carbon filament and a threaded wooden socket. He later joined Thomas Alva Edison's team of inventors and wrote the first known book on electric lighting.
Walter S. McAfee - the African American mathematician and physicist who first calculated the speed of the moon. McAfee participated in Project Diana in the 1940's - a U.S. Army program created to determine whether a high frequency radio signal could penetrate the earth's outer atmosphere. To test this, scientists wanted to bounce a radar signal off the moon and back to earth. But the moon was a swiftly moving target, impossible to hit without knowing its exact speed. McAfee made the necessary calculations and on January 10, 1946, the team sent a radar pulse through a special 40-foot square antenna toward the moon. Two and a half seconds later they received a faint signal, proving that transmissions from earth could cross the vast distances of outer space. Official news of this scientific breakthrough did not include McAfee's name, nor was there any recognition of the essential role he played. But Americans could not have walked on the moon had it not been for Walter S. McAfee and his calculations.
Patricia Roberts Harris - Harris achieved many firsts. She was the first black female cabinet member, first black female ambassador, first black to serve in the United Nations, first black female on major corporate boards, first black female to chair a national political party committee, first black female to participate in a presidential nomination, first female to serve as dean of a law school, and first black, and only woman to serve in three cabinet level positions .
You can't get a blood transfusion, stop at a traffic signal, turn on a lamp, or even put on a pair of shoes without relying on technologies and devices first patented by African Americans. Extend your knowledge and Black History Month throughout the year. Find out more about interesting facts.