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 protÃ©gÃ© because he thought men more likely to pursue lucrative careers in medicine than to remain in academe.Â 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.Â Continue reading
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.Â Continue reading
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.Â Born in Pontotoc, Mississippi on May 14, 1861, Coffin earned his bachelorâ€™s degree at Fisk University and his masterâ€™s and Ph.D. in biology at Illinois Wesleyan University in 1889.Â 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.Â Back at Alcorn A&M from 1895 to 1898 he worked as the campus disbursement agent.Â From 1898 to 1909 Coffin was a public school principal in San Antonio, Texas and in Kansas City, Missouri.Â Continue reading
Garrett A. Morgan (1875-1963), inventor; Â born in Paris, Tenn.
Morgan developed his first invention, a belt fastener for sewing machines, in 1901, and he sold it for $150. In 1914 he won the First Grand Prize gold medal at the Second International Exposition of Sanitation and Safety for his breathing helmet and smoke protector (prototype to the gas mask).
In 1916 he demonstrated the use of this device in the rescue operation following an explosion in a tunnel at the Cleveland Waqterworks that trapped many men below Lake Erie. In 1923, Morgan developed an automatic stop sign to aid the movement of traffic, selling the rights to this invention to General Electric for $40,000.
At the Emancipation Centennial Celebration in Chicago, Illinois, in August 1963, Morgan was nationally recognized. Although in ill-health, and nearly blind, he continued to work on his inventions; one of his last was a self-extinguishing cigarette, which employed a small plastic pellet filled with water, placed just before the filter.
Theodore S. Wright (1797-1847) was an African-American abolitionist and minister who was active in New York City, where he led the First Colored Presbyterian Church as its second pastor. He was the first African American to attend Princeton Theological Seminary (and any United States theological seminary), from which he graduated in 1829. In 1833 he was a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and served on its executive committee until 1840.
Theodore Sedgwick Wright was born about 1797 to free parents. He is believed to have moved into New York City with his family, where he attended the African Free School. With the aid of Governor DeWitt Clinton and Arthur Tappan of the New York Manumission Society, and men from Princeton Theological Seminary, Wright was aided in his studies at the graduate seminary. In 1829 he was the first African American to graduate from there, and the first to complete theological studies at a seminary in the United States.
Before 1833, Wright was called as the second minister of New York’s First Colored Presbyterian Church and served there the rest of his life. (It was later known as Shiloh Presbyterian Church and is now St. James Presbyterian Church in Harlem.) He followed the founder, Samuel Cornish.Â Continue reading