Robert Tanner Freeman

Robert Tanner Freeman
The First Black Dentist

Dr. Robert Tanner Freeman was the first African American dentist to receive a degree in the United States. He graduated from the Harvard University Dental School in 1869.  He and George Lewis Ruffin (Law School) share the distinction of being the first African Americans to graduate from Harvard University. Freeman was born in Washington, D.C. to former slaves from North Carolina, and as a young man was hired by a local dentist, Dr. Henry Bliss Noble.

He began as a clerk and became a dental assistant. Dr. Nobel encouraged him to pursue a career in dentistry as a way to help alleviate the sufferings of other blacks.Freeman applied to, and was rejected by, two colleges before he was accepted, in 1867, as one of the sixteen members of the inaugural class at the newly formed Harvard Dental School.

His fellow classmates included another African American, George Franklin Grant. Upon graduation in 1869 he returned to Washington, D.C. to set up private practice in the same building as his previous employer and mentor.Freeman died four years later.  Continue reading

Janet Collins

Janet Collins was the first Black Artist to perform in a Met Opera

Janet Collins was born on March 2, 1917 in New Orleans, Louisiana. She grew up in Los Angeles, California. She auditioned for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo when she was only 15. She was very talented, but she was not accepted because she was black.

They told her she would have to dance in a white face. She said no thanks. She went to New York City in 1948. She had a chance to dance at the 92nd Street YMHA in February 1948. Many other black dancers got their big chance there.In 1951 she became the first African American prima ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera in NY, NY.

She made a lot of African American little girls want to be ballerinas. Janet taught at the School of American Ballet in New York City. She moved to California and continued to teach dance. In the 1960s, Janet taught dance at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY. (very close to Pocantico Hills School.) Janet Collins opened the door for other African American girls and women who want to be ballet dancers. Continue reading

JH Hunter

John W. Hunter, on Nov. 3, 1896, received patent number 570,553 for a portable weighing scales
John W. Hunter, on Jan. 19, 1909, received patent number 909,902 for a hair dressing device

J.H. Hunter, an African-American inventor, patented the weighing scale on November 3, 1896.It was patent number 570, 533. The weighing scale is used to determine the weight or mass of an object or individual.

On Jan. 19, 1909, he also received patent number 909,902 for a hair dressing device

School desegregation ends

Desegregation at Little Rock: Little Rock Central High School. February 14. 1969

On October 29, 1969, the Supreme Court ruled that school districts must end segregation “now and hereafter.”  With this unambiguous language, the Court, which now had Thurgood Marshall as a member, left no room for doubt or delay.Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education is an important (and, today, curiously underrated) Supreme Court decision from 1969. It mandated immediate action in the segregation of public school facilities.

The Court was responding to a legal challenge from diehard anti-integrationists, who had learned—from civil rights proponents, no doubt—that the legal system could be used to support social objectives. The anti-integrationists, however, received a major defeat when the Court ruled unanimously that Mississippi (and, by extension, the nation) was obliged to integrate public schools “at once.” Continue reading

U.S. Navy opened to Black Women

Navy Department Press Release, October 19, 1944:

Waves congratulate each other after being commissioned as the first African-American “WAVES” officers, Dec. 1944.

Negro Women to be Accepted in Women’s Reserve, U.S. Naval Reserve. The President today approved a plan submitted by the Navy Department providing for the acceptance of Negro women in the Women’s Reserve of the Navy.

The plan calls for the immediate commissioning of a limited number of especially qualified Negro women to serve as administrative officers. They will assist in the subsequent planning and supervision of the program for Negro women which will be administered as an integral part of the Women’s Reserve.

Enlistment of Negro women will be undertaken as soon as these plans have been completed and it is presently indicated that the first Negro recruits will enter training shortly after January 1. Officer candidates and enlisted women will be trained at existing schools for the training of WAVES. The number to be enlisted will be determined by the needs of the service.

Guion Bluford, Jr.

Guion Bluford Jr

Dr. Bluford’s record of accomplishments includes over 29 years of experience as a senior level business executive, NASA Astronaut, aerospace technical supervisor, aerospace engineer, computational fluid dynamicist, instructor pilot, and tactical fighter pilot.

He is the first African American to fly in space (STS-8, the eighth flight of the Space Shuttle) and the first African American to return to space (STS-61A, the 22nd flight of the Space Shuttle; STS-39; the 40th flight of the Space Shuttle; and STS-53, the 52nd flight of the Space Shuttle).  Continue reading

Use of federal troops in integration – The Ole Miss riot 1962

Chief U.S. Marshal James McShane (left) and John Doar (right) of the Justice Department escorting James Meredith to class at Ole Miss

The Ole Miss riot 1962 was a riot fought between Southern segregationist civilians and federal and state forces as a result of the forced enrollment of black student James Meredith at the University of Mississippi (known affectionately as Ole Miss) at Oxford, Mississippi.

On October 1, 1962, James H. Meredith became the first black student at the University of Mississippi, after being barred from entering on September 20 and several other occasions in the following days. His enrollment, publicly opposed by segregationist Governor Ross Barnett, sparked riots on the Oxford campus, which required the U.S. Marshals.

Later on (federal) U.S. Army military police from the 503rd Military Police Battalion were sent by President John F. Kennedy. Troops from U.S. Border Patrol and Mississippi National Guard were called in, as well. The involvement of federal forces was opposed for a long time by the President and Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Continue reading

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