Science

Clarence A. “Skip” Ellis

Clarence “Skip” Ellis was born in 1943 and grew up in a very poor neighborhood of the south side of Chicago. His mother struggled to raise five children by herself. Gangs and violence were common in school. Skip wasn’t one of the “cool” kids – he mostly kept to himself. At the time, he was sad because he felt excluded from so many things. Surprisingly, this helped him because he was able to avoid the gangs, violence and problems some kids in his class got into.

At 15, Skip took a job at a local company to help support his family. He was assigned the “graveyard shift,” which meant he had to work all night long. His job was to prevent break-ins and, most importantly, not to touch the company’s brand new computer! It was 1958 and computers were very expensive and not very common. Since he had lots of free time, he read the computer manuals that came with the machines. He became a self-taught computer expert. One day, there was a crisis at the company…  Continue reading

Lewis Howard Latimer

Lewis Howard Latimer

Lewis Howard Latimer

Lewis Howard Latimer (1848-1928), inventor, scientist; born in Chelsea, Mass. Latimer served in the Union Navy in 1863, studied drafting, and later invented and patented an incandescent light bulb with a carbon filament in 1881.

He served as an engineer for the Edison Company for many years, and while with Edison supervised the installation of the electric light system in New York, N.Y.; Philadelphia, Pa.; Montreal, Canada; and London, England.

Latimer wrote the first textbook on the lighting system used by the Edison Company, and he was employed by Alexander Graham Bell to make patent drawings for the first telephone. He also served as chief draftsman for General Electric and Westinghouse companies.  Continue reading

Roger Arliner Young

Roger Arliner Young

Roger Arliner Young

Roger Arliner Young was the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate in zoology, after years of juggling research and teaching with the burden of caring for her invalid mother. Her story is one of grit and perseverance.

Roger Arliner Young grew up in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania. In 1916, she entered Howard University. In 1921, she took her first science course, under Ernest Everett Just, a prominent black biologist and head of the zoology department at Howard. Although her grades were poor, Just saw some promise and started mentoring Young. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1923.

Her relationship with Just improved her skills, and he continued working with her. According to his biographer, Just probably chose a woman protégé because he thought men more likely to pursue lucrative careers in medicine than to remain in academe. Just helped Young find funding to attend graduate school.

In 1924 she entered the University of Chicago part-time. Her grades improved dramatically. She was asked to join Sigma Xi, an unusual honor for a master’s student. She also began publishing her research. Her first article, “On the Excretory Apparatus in Paramecium,” appeared in Science in September 1924. She obtained her master’s degree in 1926.  Continue reading

Ernest Everest Just

Ernest Everest Just

Ernest Everest Just

Dr. Ernest Just was a pioneer in the fields of biology and chemistry at a time when it was extremely difficult for African Americans to get a scientific education. He overcame many obstacles to leave a scientific legacy for generations to come studying cell life and human metabolism. In addition, he explored egg fertilization. In fact, he was the first person to unlock the secrets of cell function and structure.

Ernest Just was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1883 to Charles and Margaret Just. His early life was not easy. When he was just four years old his father died. In order for his family to survive, Ernest had to work as a field hand to make money.

Once the family got back on its feet again, Ernest’s mother sent him North to prepare for college. He went to the Kimball Hall Academy in New Hampshire where his brilliance shined. He completed four years of course work in only three and graduated valedictorian. He went on to Dartmouth College where he graduated in 1907 magna cum laude with degrees in Biology and History. He was the only person in his class to receive such high standing.  Continue reading

Alfred Oscar Coffin

Alfred Oscar Coffin

Alfred Oscar Coffin

Although he was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in a field of the biological sciences, Alfred Oscar Coffin ended his career as Professor of Romance Languages at Langston University in Oklahoma.  Born in Pontotoc, Mississippi on May 14, 1861, Coffin earned his bachelor’s degree at Fisk University and his master’s and Ph.D. in biology at Illinois Wesleyan University in 1889.  Beginning in 1887, Coffin taught for two years at Alcorn Agricultural & Mechanical College in Mississippi.

From 1889 to 1895 he was Professor of Mathematics and Romance Language at Wiley University in Marshall, Texas where he found time to write a treatise on the native plants there.  Back at Alcorn A&M from 1895 to 1898 he worked as the campus disbursement agent.  From 1898 to 1909 Coffin was a public school principal in San Antonio, Texas and in Kansas City, Missouri.  Continue reading

Upcoming Black History Posts
  • Martin R. Delany
  • Dr. Percy Lavon Julian
  • Segregation in buses and terminals banned
  • Bethune-Cookman University
  • National Council of Negro women
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