African-Americans have a long standing history of social, political, and economic development as well as activism in the United States, from pushing for the integrated public places to fighting for the civil and voting rights. The current day American society, widely known for its polarization and diversity cutting across all cultures, races, and religions have been through a long journey especially for the people of color. This has been achieved through the enormous and selfless contribution by some of the great men and women of the earlier years from scientists, scholars, activists, explorers, and religious leaders. Most of the approaches used by the African American leaders to bring about equality were peaceful and non-violent but made a powerful impact on the civil rights in the U.S. with their contributions, the nation slowly worked to acknowledge the basic rights and contributions of the African Americans.
Earnest Just (1883-1941) was an internationally acknowledged scholar and authority in the fields of egg development and fertilization (Hahn, 2009). A true scientist he devoted his life and exceptional skills to expanding the bounds of understanding and knowledge. His accomplishments were enduring and enormous despite the effects of racism in the U.S. academic institutions so much so that his achievements continue earning respect and acknowledgement of his peers to date. Born in 1883 in South Carolina, Charleston, he distinguished himself right from his early school days as an unusually talented and intelligent student and researcher (Franklin, 2011). Apparently, he completed a four-year curriculum at Kimball Hall Academy in three years and went on to Dartmouth College. Here, he earned the highest grades as a freshman in Greek to earn a two year scholarship in Rufus Choate. While at Dartmouth, Just developed his exceptional academic and career focus after reading a paper on fertilization and egg development. On graduating in 1907, he received honors in sociology, botany, and history. After graduating, he began teaching at Howard University where he helped a group of students forms Omega Psi Fraternity. He also became the head of Zoology Department in 1912 (Stewart, 2009). His work at the Marine Biological laboratory earned him international acclamation. Just’s key contributions enhanced understanding of the physiology of the early biological development.
George Washington Carver is said to have been born a slave at around 1864 in Diamond Missouri. He faced many challenges in his pursuit for education as a result of racism. His areas of training and research included alternative cash crops development for farmers in cotton growing areas and methods of crop rotation (Franklin, 2011). His work in these areas helped struggling sharecroppers in the south many of whom were former slaves now faced with the necessity for the cultivation under harsh conditions especially the devastation of weevils in 1892 (Hahn, 2009). In addition, the education of African American students at the Tuskegee contributed enormously to the economic stabilization efforts among blacks. Carver’s achievements, possibilities of racial harmony in America, and the example of Tuskegee were some of his contributions through his famous speeches. From 1923 to 1933, Carvey toured white Southern colleges through the Interracial Cooperation Commission.
Berlin et al. (2009), contend that Shirley Jackson, born in 1946, was encouraged to school by her parents who valued education. She was accepted at Harvard for her Doctoral work, but she decided to remain at MIT because she wanted to encourage more black students to attending the institution. Jackson went on to become the first African American woman to earn a doctorate in nuclear physics at MIT. She was also elected the first female and first black president of the Rensselaer (Stewart, 2009).
Susan McKinney was the first female African American physician in New York State, and the U.S., the third. She graduated in 1870 and practiced medicine in Manhattan and Brooklyn from 1870 to 1895. She was the founder of the Women’s Hospital and Dispensary and a member of the Kings Country medical society. She also functioned as the official physician for the Brooklyn Home for Aged People of Color (Stewart, 2009). Her career and life are inspirational to the society for the preservation of the Weeksville and Bedford-Stuyvesant History.
Percy Lavon Julian was a renowned trailblazing chemist whose major discoveries saved and improved many lives. He grew up at a time when African Americans were faced with extraordinary obstacles (Hahn, 2009). However, Julian refused to allow racism prevent him from becoming one of the most acknowledged scientists of the 20th century, and also a leader in civil rights and business. Born in 1899, Julian he graduated first in his class from DePauw University. He became the first African American to earn a master’s degree from Harvard although he was denied admission to a doctoral program. He faced several other racial discriminations in his career and life. For instance, when he moved his family to Oak Park, a white predominantly affluent suburb of Chicago, they encountered violent resistance and their house was firebombed. He, however, stood his ground and remained there, as a prominent civil rights leader speaking publicly for justice and full equality for all Americans (Franklin, 2011). His greatest achievements in this regard are the breaking of the race barrier in the American industrial science by training many young black chemists in his labs.
Madam C.J. Walker’s contributions to the political, economic, and social well being of thousands of black men, women, and children were groundbreaking (Stewart, 2009). Her work and accomplishments anticipate certain groundwork for the impact of the present day and the future African American women. She was married at only 15 and widowed five years later to be left with no means of support. However, she rose her way to becoming a successful entrepreneur, social and political activist, and a philanthropist. The money she donated was crucial in funding ventures and programs that gave a voice to the then continuously victimized blacks by the government’s refusal to support their constitutional rights. She was a constant figure in political organizations and campaigns to fight against the injustices towards blacks.
Garrett A. Morgan received a patent on November 20, 1923 for the invention of the traffic light signal. He was also very active in the black community where he lived; for instance, he established the Cleveland Association for the Colored Men and also published the newspaper “The Cleveland Call.” Morgan met racial resistant when presenting his discovered breathing device especially in the Southern areas. Apart from his many discoveries, Morgan contributed immensely to the black community (Hahn, 2009). He donated to Negro colleges and also opened an all-black country club. He was honored for the traffic signal invention by the U.S government and his many discoveries continued to inspire many black generations after him.
Explorer Jean DuSable, a black pioneer trader born in 1750 is known to be the founder of the settlement that is present day the city of Chicago. His settlement at the shores of Lake Michigan where he acted as an important link for the region’s grain and fur trade has established his title as the father of Chicago (Berlin et al., 2009). Another explorer Matthew Henson proved an invaluable team member for a team of sailors dedicated to reach the North pole in 1908. He build sledges and trained others on sled-handling. The expedition continued to the following year and Peary, some four Eskimos, and Henson finally reached the North Pole from a trip that had begun with 24 men. W.E.B.DuBOIS graduated as the first black student with a degree of doctor of philosophy from the Harvard University. He founded the Niagara Movement, a group of black dedicated to active struggle for racial equality (Berlin et al., 2009).
Martin Luther King was undoubtedly a leader of peace in the 1960s through the Peaceful Rights Movement. After organizing the Montgomery bus boycott, he formed the Sothern Christian Leadership Conference dedicated to the advancement of rights for the African American (Berlin et al., 2009). In April 1963, he organized a protest in Birmingham, Alabama, which is recognized as among the most segregated cities in the U.S. although he was arrested he received widespread support throughout the nation. Later that year he delivered his famous speech “I Have a Dream” to thousands in Washington, D.C. after the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, King directed his efforts to registering African American voters in the South. He was played a major role in the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Politically, economically, and socially, the African Americans have made substantial strides throughout history. Black leaders and activists were able to use non-violent protests and campaigns to earn a voice in the community and the government. They brought about outstanding development of the blacks into the mainstream social, economic, political, and scientific spheres through their tireless efforts. Socially, African Americans were widely accepted as equal social beings among other Americans. The contributions of early scholars and scientists proved to America and the world that they were capable of intellectual undertakings and the civil activism created new political systems with voting and civil rights.
Berlin, I., Hancock, S., Boritt, G. S., & Gettysburg Civil War, I. (2009). Slavery, Resistance, Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Franklin, John Hope. (2011). From Slavery to Freedom, 9th ed.
Hahn S. The Political Worlds of Slavery and Freedom [e-book]. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press; 2009.
Stewart, J. B. (2009). A Man for all Seasons in the Journey from Slavery to freedom. The Journal of African American History, (3), 398.