Great African Americans You Should Know

Diversity Employers, January-February 1993 | Go to article overview

Great African Americans You Should Know


Benjamin Banneker Mary McLeod Bethune George Washington Carver Frederick Douglass W.E.B. DuBois Marcus Garvey Fannie Lou Hamer Dr. Percy Lavon Julian Paul Robeson Sojourner Truth Harriet Tubman Granville T. Woods Carter G. Woodson Ida B. Wells Phillis Wheatley

Benjamin Banneker 1731 - 1806 Mathematician, Inventor

Born on November 9, 1731 near Elliot City, Maryland, Benjamin Banneker was one of America's greatest intellectuals and scientists. Benjamin Banneker was an essayist, inventor, mathematician, and astronomer. Because of his dark skin and great intellect he was called the "sable genius."

Benjamin Banneker was a self-taught mathematician and astronomer. While still a youth he made a wooden clock which kept accurate time past the date that Banneker died. This clock is believed to be the first clock wholly made in America. In 1791, he served on a project to make a survey for the District of Columbia, helping to design the layout for our Nation's capital. Deeply interested in natural phenomena, Banneker started publishing an almanac in 1791 and continued its publication until 1802. He published a treatise on bees, did a mathematical study on the cycle of the seventeen-year locust, and became a pamphleteer for the anti-slavery movement. He was internationally known for his accomplishments and became an advisor to President Thomas Jefferson. He died on his farm on October 9, 1806.

Mary McLeod Bethune 1875 - 1955 Founder of Bethune-Cookman College

Born on July 10, 1875 in Mayesville, South Carolina, Mary McLeod Bethune ranks high among great women in America. The last of seventeen children of sharecroppers, Mary Bethune lifted herself from cotton field to the White House as an advisor to the President of the United States. Her greatest accomplishment, however, was almost single-handedly building Bethune-Cookman College in 1923. With only one dollar and fifty cents, nerve, and determination, she set out to build a school for the Blacks who were working in the railroad labor camps in Florida.

Slowly the school emerged from old crate boxes and odd rooms of old houses near the Daytona Beach city dump. Bethune served as the school's president until 1942. Today Bethune-Cookman graduates thousands. In 1935, she received the NAACP Spingarn Medal as a symbol of distinguished achievement. Also in 1935, President Roosevelt appointed her national director of the National Youth Administration's Division of Negro Affairs. She died on May 18, 1955 in Daytona Beach, Florida.

George Washington Carver 1860 - 1943 Agricultural Scientist

If an honest history of the deep South is ever written, Dr. George Washington Carver will stand out as one of the truly great men of his time. Born of slave parents in 1860 in Diamond, Missouri, Dr. Carver almost single-handedly revolutionized southern agriculture. From his small laboratory on the campus of Tuskegee Institute flowed hundreds of discoveries and products from the once neglected peanut. From the peanut Dr. Carver discovered meal, instant and dry coffee, bleach, tan remover, wood filler, metal polish, paper, ink, shaving cream, rubbing oil, linoleum, synthetic rubber, and plastics. From the soybean he obtained flour, breakfast food, and milk.

It is highly doubtful if any other person has done as much for southern agriculture as Dr. Carver. Dr. Carver died in 1943 and was buried next to Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee Institute. On July 17, 1960 the George Washington Carver National Monument was dedicated at Dr. Carver's birth site. This was the first U.S. federal monument dedicated to an African American.

Frederick Douglass 1817 - 1895 Journalist, Activist, Ambassador

When Frederick A. Douglass was born in 1817 on a Maryland plantation, his given name was Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. Frederick Douglass constantly fought against his slave condition and was constantly in trouble with the overseer. When he escaped on September 3, 1838, and he settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, he changed his name to Frederick A. …

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