Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Black History Month: Hidden Figure on the West Coast

Janez Lawson

Janez Lawson, front row center

With a degree in chemical engineering, Janez Lawson, joined the team of computers (women mathematicians and scientists) at the Jet Propulsion Lab in California. She became the first African-American woman to be a part of the team, and Ms. Lawson was one of two women who received advance training from IBM about how to use their computers. Ms. Lawson learned how to program the IBM 701 computer. After working for the Jet Propulsion Lab, Ms. Lawson worked as a chemical engineer for the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation, an aeronautical company (Holt, 127).
Holland, B. (2016). Human Computers: The Women of NASA. History.com. Retrieved from: http://www.history.com/news/human-computers-women-at-nasa

Holt, N. (2016). Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Black History Month: No Longer Hidden

Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson

Left to right: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson at a NASA award ceremony
The real-life women portrayed in the movie Hidden Figures were instrumental in the success of the United States space program.

Mary Jackson worked for NASA from 1951 until 1985. She did important scientific and mathematical work, like Katherine Johnson, yet she also made her mark as a human resources manager tasked with EEOC responsibilities (Shetterly, 257-260). This is a quote from Mary’s obituary, written by Mary’s protégé and successor, Gloria Champine, “She was a role model of the highest character, and through her quiet, behind-the-scenes efforts managed to help many minorities and women reach their highest potential through promotions and movement into supervisory positions.” (Shetterly, 260).

Educated in mathematics, Katherine Johnson was responsible for calculations related to Mercury missions and the Apollo 11 and 13 missions. Ms. Johnson worked at NASA from 1953 until 1986, and she is still living today (Boyd, 2016). She received the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Obama, in 2015.

Dorothy Vaughan, a math whiz, and the third woman portrayed in the Hidden Figures movie, worked as a research mathematician and the section head of the group of women computers known as West Computing. Per a quote from the book Hidden Figures, “History would prove them all right: there was no one better qualified for the job [Head of the West Area Computers unit] than Dorothy Vaughan.” (Shetterly, p.92)

Additional links of interest for Hidden Figures women/women at NASA:
Women at Jet Propulsion Lab link: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/women/grid.html
Women at NASA link: https://women.nasa.gov/
Link to the movie production company’s website: http://www.foxmovies.com/movies/hidden-figures
Boyd, H. (2016, September 15-21). ‘Hidden Figures’ No More—Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson of NASA. New York Amsterdam News. 107:38. pp. 28-31.

Shetterly, M. L. (2016). Hidden Figures. New York: William Morrow.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Black History Month-Pioneers in Space

History Maker-Dr. Guion Bluford, Jr.

(Photo by NASA)
The first African American to go into space was Dr. Guion Bluford, Jr. After earning a Bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering. Dr. Bluford then entered the United States Air Force, and served as a pilot in Vietnam. He went on to earn a Master’s and a Ph.D. degree in aerospace engineering. “Dr. Bluford became an astronaut in 1979. . . and in 1983, Bluford became the first African American to go into space aboard the STS-8” (Asante, 61). Bluford, was among four men who became the first African American astronauts; the other three are: Dr. Ronald McNair, Major General Charles Bolden, Jr., and Frederick Gregory. Dr. Bluford attended the reinternment ceremony of explorer Matthew Henson, and he was among the NASA astronauts who attended the funeral of Dr. Ronald McNair.

For more information go to, NASA’s educational, All About Astronauts site

A Bold Move-Major General Charles Bolden, Jr.

(Photo by NASA)

A native of Columbia, S.C., Mr. Bolden became the first African American in charge of NASA’s space program. Before becoming the lead administrator at NASA, Mr. Bolden graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1968, served in Vietnam, Kuwait, and Japan, earned a Master’s degree in systems management, and was a NASA astronaut for 14 years. In 1990, during his fourteen year term at NASA, Major General Bolden piloted the Space Shuttle Discovery. On this mission he and his team launched the Hubble Space Telescope. Major General Bolden became NASA’s 12th administrator, the first African American to hold this position, in 2009.

Here is a video about Major General Bolden, presented by actor Levar Burton. 

Go to the link below to see Major General Bolden's flight suit. 

One of the Few, the Four-Frederick Gregory

(Photo by NASA)

Astronaut Frederick Gregory was born in the United States in Washington, D. C. He graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy with a degree in science, and he went on to earn a master's degree in information systems (NASA, n.d.). Mr. Gregory became an astronaut in 1978 and worked for NASA until 2005 (NASA, n.d). Along with Dr. Bluford, Major General Bolden, and Dr. McNair, Mr. Gregory was one of the first four African-American astronauts.

A Brilliant Physicist-Dr. Ronald McNair

(Photo by NASA)
The accomplished Dr. McNair, one of the 7 astronauts who perished during the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, was the second African American to go into space and the first to die in space. Dr. McNair had a Ph.D. in Physics from MIT, and he excelled early on in life becoming valedictorian of his high school class (Cheers, 84). According to Ebony magazine, Dr. McNair was, “recognized nationally for his work in the field of laser physics” (Cheers, 84). In addition to his scientific pursuits, Dr. McNair played the saxophone and was a sixth degree black belt in karate. In a tribute to Dr. McNair in Ebony magazine, it was said that he, “walked humbly and never boasted about his achievements” (Cheers, 90). The Reverend Jesse Jackson, who was a friend of Dr. McNair’s, spoke at his funeral.

Go here to see an interview on CBS News with Dr. McNair’s widow.

Asante, M.K. (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. New York: Prometheus Books. pp.61.

Cheers, D.M. (1986, May). Requiem for a Hero: ‘Touching the Face of God.’ Ebony. 41(7). pp. 82-94.

Joiner, L. (2009, Fall). Bold Moves. The Crisis. 116(4). pp. 22-27

Leavy, W. (1983). Lt. Co. Guion S. Bluford Jr. takes…A Historic Step Into Outer Space. Ebony, 39(1), pp. 162-168.
Myers, A. (2005). Bluford, Guion Stewart (Guy). In Appiah, K.A. & Gates, H.L., (eds).  Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, 2nd. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 558.

NASA. (n.d.). NASA’s African-American Astronauts. Retrieved from:  https://www.nasa.gov/pdf/286592main_African_American_Astronauts_FS.pdf

United States Marine Corps. (2005, October 7). Official Biography for Charles Bolden, Jr. Retrieved from:

http://www.usmc.mil/genbios2.nsf/0/81BE83E89B03DDC88525680B000CC9F0?opendocument (1 of 2)10/7/2005 11:12:09 AM 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Black History Month: Pioneering Explorer

Estevan Dorantes

Mr. Dorantes is the first known African man to serve as a tour guide in what is now the United States of America. Mr. Dorantes was born in the African country of Morocco, and, according to the Africana encyclopedia, he was also known as Estevanico, Esteban, Estevanico the Moor, Black Stephen, and Esteban de Dorantes. In the late 1520s, Mr. Dorantes guided a group of Spaniards across the southern and western parts of the country, well before the lands that he and the others crossed were part of the United States.
Obregón, L. (2005). Estebanico. In Appiah, K.A. and Gates, H.L., (Eds).  Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, 2nd. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 555.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Black History Month: North Pole Navigator

North Pole Navigator: Matthew Henson
Matthew Henson

Matthew Henson, an indispensable team member on the expedition to reach the North Pole, served as an interpreter (he spoke the Eskimo language), navigator, and fellow guide to Commander Robert Peary. Mr. Henson’s relationship with Admiral Peary began in 1887, when he and Peary went to Nicaragua to do canal work. Even though Peary is credited with being the first person to discover the North Pole, Mr. Henson actually reached the pole 45 minutes before Peary did (p. 155).
Mr. Henson wrote the book A Black Explorer at the North Pole in 1912, and in it he detailed his experiences of going to the North Pole. Though not given the honor he was due during his lifetime or at the time of his death in 1955, Mr. Henson was reburied at Arlington National Cemetery in 1988 (p. 156).
Asante, M.K. (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. New York: Prometheus Books. pp. 155-156.

A Final Resting Place for Matthew Henson. (1988, July). Ebony. 43(9).

Monday, February 20, 2017

Black History Month: Intrepid Explorer


Statue of York in Louisville, KY
A largely uncredited member of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Captain William Clark’s slave, York, participated in the exploration of the Louisiana Purchase. He even voted with the group in 1805 when there was a decision to be made about camping for the winter. Even though, York, “seems to have performed the same duties as the other expedition privates,” he did not receive compensation for his efforts (Lauderdale, 2004). He was still a slave to Captain Clark when the expedition ended, but York was freed by Clark about five years later.

Lauderdale, B. (2004, April). Westerners. Wild West. 16(6). pp.10-11.

Sellman, J. (2005). Military, Blacks in the American. In Appiah, K.A. and Gates, H.L., (Eds).  Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, 2nd. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 13.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Black History Month: Star Gazer

Benjamin Banneker 

Benjamin Banneker, a self-taught astronomer with an aptitude for mathematics, also made a clock, worked as a farmer, wrote almanacs, and worked closely with Pierre L’Enfant and George Ellicott on the layout of Washington, D.C. Mr. Banneker came into the world as a free man in 1731, in the state of Maryland (Asante, 48). After his work in Washington D.C., Mr. Banneker produced almanacs that he sold in the United States and abroad (Asante, 49). Mr. Banneker died in 1806 (Asante, 48).

Source: Asante, M.K. (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. New York: Prometheus Books. pp. 48-49. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Black History Month: First in (Space) Flight for an African American Woman

Dr. Mae Jemison

Dr. Mae Jemison, a physician and a NASA astronaut, graduated from high school and enrolled in college when she was sixteen-years-old. With undergraduate degrees in chemical engineering and African American Studies, and a medical degree from Cornell University, Dr. Jemison began her professional career doing non-profit medical work. She served in a refugee camp in Asia and as a medical officer in the countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia (Asante, 172). In 1992, she completed her astronaut training with NASA.  Then, in the same year, Dr. Jemison became the first African American woman to go into space on the Spacelab-J mission (Asante, 173).
For more information about Dr. Jemison, including her Twitter account, see the links and references included here :
Dr. Mae Jemison’s Twitter handle: @maejemison
NASA: https://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/jemison-mc.html
Asante, M.K. (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. New York: Prometheus Books. pp.172-173.
Marshall, M. (1989, August). Child of the 60s Set to Become First Black Woman in Space. Ebony. 44(10). pp. 50-55.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Black History Month: Glass Ceiling Breaker

 Rear Admiral Evelyn Fields

Rear Admiral Fields, broke both the glass ceiling and racial barriers when she became, “the first woman officer from any of the U.S. uniformed services to command a commissioned U.S. ship.” (First Woman, 88). Fields grew up in Norfolk, VA, and graduated with a degree in mathematics from Norfolk State University. She became an officer 1973, and, in 1999, she became the first woman and first African American to command the Office of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Corps Operations and NOAA Commissioned Corps (Kouhestani, 1999).
Press release about Rear Admiral Evelyn Fields:
First Woman Ship Captain: Pioneer in U.S. Uniformed Services Finds Smooth Sailing. (1990, June). Ebony. pp. 88-90.
Kouhestani, J. (1999, July 27). Rear Admiral Evelyn J. Fields Formally Assumes Command of Office of NOAA Corps Operations and NOAA Commissioned Corps. NOAA Public Affairs. Retrieved from: http://www.publicaffairs.noaa.gov/releases99/july99/noaa99052.html

Monday, February 13, 2017

Black History Month: Super Inventor

--> Super Inventor
Lonnie Johnson with a Super Soaker
Lonnie Johnson-The man who invented the Super Soaker® also worked for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and served in the United States Air Force. The idea for the Super Soaker® came to Johnson while testing an idea for a different type of cooling system for refrigerators (Tucker, 2003). As of 2002, Mr. Johnson held 60 patents, and had formed his own company, Johnson Research and Development (Modern, 2002). In addition to Mr. Johnson’s inventions, he also worked on the NASA Galileo and Cassini missions (Johnson, 2004).

For more information about Mr. Johnson, check out the articles below or visit his website, (http://johnsonrd.com/ie/).

To see all of the current Super Soaker® products, go to Hasbro’s website.   
Johnson Research & Development. (2004). Lonnie G. Johnson Profile. Retrieved from: http://johnsonrd.com/ie/lj/ljprofile.html

Modern Black Inventors. (2002, February 2). Jet. 107:7. P. 16.

Tucker, L. (2003, September 22). Ready, Set, Squirt! Science World. 60:2. pp. 18-20.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Black History Month: Stephen Bishop

A Mammoth Task: Stephen Bishop and the Bransford family

Illustration from Guide Book to the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky: Historical, Scientific, and Descriptive by Horace Carter Hovey (published R. Clarke and Company in 1882) [Unknown illustrator] - Library of Congress, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51910499
African-Americans were among the first explorers and tour guides of the world’s longest cave system, Mammoth Cave. In fact, guide Stephen Bishop bravely navigated the caverns of the cave’s passages for years, and he documented the cave with a map he created, from memory, in 1842. Mr. Bishop also discovered the following Mammoth Cave features: Mammoth Dome, River Styx, Dismal Hollow, and Bandits’ Hall. Not only did Mr. Bishop make strides in exploration, he served as a Mammoth Cave tour guide. Mr. Bishop achieved these efforts while he was enslaved, using lanterns and ropes.

Mat Bransford
The Bransford family worked as explorers and guides of Mammoth Cave too, as contemporaries of Mr. Stephen Bishop. Several generations of the Bransford family worked supporting the cave economy including: patriarch Masterson (Mat) Bransford, Henry Bransford, Will Bransford and his wife Zemmie, and Jerry Bransford. Will and Zemmie Bransford became entrepreneurs, opening the Bransford Resort, which allowed African-Americans a place to eat and sleep near the cave.

To learn more about the Bransford family or Stephen Bishop come to the library to see The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia (R 920 K37), or visit the National Park Site dedicated to Mammoth Cave’s African-American explorers and guides (https://www.nps.gov/maca/learn/historyculture/black-history.htm). 
Black History at Mammoth Cave (n.d.). Mammoth Cave National Park. Retrieved from: https://www.nps.gov/maca/learn/historyculture/black-history.htm

Hudson, J. B. (2015). Bishop, Stephen. In Smith, G.L., McDaniel, K.C., & Hardin, J.A. (Eds.), The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia (pp. 47-48). Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky.

Smith, G.L. (2015). Bransford Family. In Smith, G.L., McDaniel, K.C., & Hardin, J.A. (Eds.), The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia (p. 63). Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Black History Month: Elijah McCoy

Elijah McCoy: The "Real McCoy"

Elijah McCoy was born in Colchester, Ontario, Canada on May 2, 1844. His parents were George and Emillia McCoy, former slaves from Kentucky who escaped through the Underground Railroad. 

At an early age, Elijah showed a mechanical interest, often taking items apart and putting them back together again. Recognizing his keen abilities, his parents arranged for him to travel to Scotland at the age of 15 for an apprenticeship in mechanical engineering.  After finishing his studies as a “master mechanic and engineer” he returned to the United States.

Elijah moved to Ypsilanti, Michigan but was unable to find work as an engineer due to racial barriers. Skilled professional positions were not available for African Americans at the time, regardless of their training or background. He was thus forced to take on a position as a fireman-oilman on the Michigan Central Railroad. As a fireman-oilman, McCoy was responsible for shoveling coal onto fires which would help to produce steam that powered the locomotive and ensuring that the train was well lubricated. Every few miles, the train would be forced to stop and he would have to walk alongside the train applying oil to the axles and bearings.

1st page of Elijah's patent application
McCoy set out to create a method of automating the task to improve efficiency and eliminate the frequent stopping necessary for lubrication of the train. In 1872 he developed a “lubricating cup” that could automatically drip oil onto the friction bearing components. He received a patent for the device later that year. McCoy continued to refine his devices, receiving nearly 60 patents over the course of his life. While the majority of his inventions related to lubrication systems, he also developed other designs. Lacking the capital with which to manufacture his lubricators in large numbers, he typically assigned his patent rights to his employers or sold them to investors. In 1920, toward the end of his life, McCoy formed the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company to produce lubricators bearing his name.

The “lubricating cup” was quite successful, and orders for it came in from railroad companies all over the country. Other inventors sold their own versions of the device–often inferior knock-offs, but most companies wanted Elijah's device, asking for “the Real McCoy.”*
* Evidence suggest that the attribution of the "real McCoy" to Elijah's invention may be apocryphal. See: http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2012/07/was-there-ever-a-real-mccoy and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_real_McCoy

Other Sources:
Brodie, James Michael, Created Equal: the Lives and Ideas of Black American Innovators. William Morrow and Company, LTD, New York, 1993. (p. 61-63)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Black History Month: Pierre Whiting

Pierre Whiting: Local Black History Folk Hero

Pierre Whiting (Retrieved from: http://www.kentucky.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/tom-eblen/article129881284.html, February 7, 2017.)
Pierre Whiting (1861-1949) wasn't an innovator or an explorer, but his story is so compelling that we had to share it. Born in 1861 in Woodford County, Pierre was hired by the University of Kentucky in 1888 as a janitor. He was UK's first black employee, and he holds the record for length of employment at the university–57 years! He retired in 1945. He lived in Adamstown, a black community, in then-segregated Lexington, KY. Adamstown no longer exists. It was purchased incrementally by UK, starting in the 1920s, and UK finished its purchases in the 1940s. Memorial Coliseum, which opened in 1950, sits on the site of Adamstown. According to local records, Pierre's house was purchased by UK in 1943 for $1,800 ($25,715 in today's money).

During his 57-year career at the University of Kentucky, Pierre became a beloved figure on campus. He acquired the moniker of "Dean Whiting." He became a treasure trove of information about UK's history. In fact, editors of the Kentucky Kernel, UK's student newspaper, would regularly interview him for his memories of working at UK. Most of his janitorial work took place at White Hall, a dormitory then, and the Main Building, one of the four original buildings on campus and the only survivor of the four.

He retired in 1945, and died on April 7, 1949. He lived long enough to witness the enrollment of UK's first black student, Lyman T. Johnson.


Monday, February 6, 2017

Black History Month

Hidden Figures: African-American Explorers and Innovators

The recent movie “Hidden Figures,” showcases the lives of African-American women employed by NASA whose efforts enabled the United States to enter and excel in the space race. These women, Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, among others, are by no means the only African-American women who have contributed to the United States space program, however. African-American men and women have contributed significantly in exploring space and other frontiers, like oceans and caves, laying the groundwork for exploration, and innovating to make our world a safer, more enjoyable place. Each day the library will feature one of these men or women so that they are no longer hidden figures. 

We have a display in the Library and Learning Resource Center to celebrate these "hidden figures." Come in and take a look, Here's some pictures to whet your appetite: