Black History is American History: Week 2

Seven more Black History is American History facts. Leave a comment below!

Whoopi Goldberg

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Born Caryn Johnson in NYC, Goldberg is one of only 12 people to win all four major individual entertainment awards: the Emmy, Oscar, Grammy and Tony. She is best known for her Oscar-nominated performances in The Color Purple and Ghost and her time on Broadway. Her comedy works on such as shows as Comic Relief and Whoopi have earned her 13 Emmy Awards. She currently is a host on The View and advocate for multiple rights groups. Goldberg (who adopted Whoopi from yes, the whoopee cushion) is one of the most versatile and decorated entertainers–male or female, black or white–of our generation.

Madam CJ Walker

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In a time when women still fight for equal pay, it’s encouraging to know that women have earned their own money for decades. Madam CJ Walker was the first self-made female millionaire in the US. Born Sarah Breedlove in a family of 8, she was the first of her siblings to be born into freedom following the Emancipation Proclamation. Walker, who had struggled with hair care for years, learned from her brothers and another female entrepreneur about hair. She married Charles Joseph Walker, took the name Madam CJ Walker, and became a hairdresser and “beauty culturist.” She employed women who traveled in black skirts and white shirts selling her self-titled line of hair care products. She was an activist for equal rights and businesswoman until her death in 1919 at the age of 51.

Matt Baker

Baker was a comic book artist during the industry’s Golden Age, known for Phantom Lady, It Rhymes With Lust and early forms of the graphic novel. Born in NC, Baker began studying art and drawing comics after a heart condition kept him from joining the military. He completed work for many successful comic publishing companies including Atlas, which later became Marvel Comics. He died in 1959 of a heart attack.

Katherine Johnson

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Johnson is a physicist, space scientist, and mathematician.  She accurately calculated the trajectory for Project Mercury and the Apollo 11 flight to the Moon. After obtaining degrees from WV State Univ and WVU, she turned to a career in mathematics after tiring of teaching. NASA was looking for new employees, particularly women of color and Johnson was hired. Women in the field were known as “computers in skirts,” but her knowledge in geometry made her a quick ally and she was reassigned to the Flight division, where she calculated the trajectory to several flights. She has won numerous honors and a movie detailing her work titled Hidden Figures was recently announced. A cool interview with her can be found here.

Quincy Jones

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With the Grammy’s right around the corner it’s only fair to mention the king of the Grammy’s himself. Jones is a musician and producer that has been one of the tireless engines of American music in the 20th century. His career, which spans 6 decades, has earned him the privilege of being the most nominated person in Grammy history with a stunning 79 nominations and second on the all-time win list with 27 awards. He and Bob Russell were the first Blacks nominated for Best Original Song at the Grammy’s and he was the first African-American nominated for Best Original Score at the Oscars. He’s also the first black musical director and composer for the Academy Awards ceremony. Jones co-produced three of Michael Jackson’s albums including Thriller (the best-selling album of all time), Frank Sinatra’s second album, and the hit charity single We Are The World. He’s also hailed as one of the most influential jazz musicians of the century, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg, which you can read about here.

Lloyd Hall

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An Illinois native, Hall graduated from Northwestern University (1916) and the University of Chicago. He was hired over the phone by the Western Electric Company and greeted on his first day by an official who informed him “we don’t take niggers.” After time at the Chicago Health Department and in Iowa, Hall returned to Chi-Town and worked at Boyer Chemical Laboratory in the emerging field of food chemistry, and began looking at a way of preserving meats with chemicals. In 1925, Hall was given a position with Griffith Laboratories,founded by Hall’s former classmate Carroll Griffith, as chief chemist and director of research. There, Hall discovered ways to preserve meat outside of table salt that were efficient and avoided “caking” that often appeared on top of meat. He also found chemical combinations to preserve meat in plastic containers, new methods for sterilization of eating utensils, and processes for preserving food with seasonings without exposing them to bacteria. He held over 100 patents and is credited with revolutionizing food chemistry and preservation today.

Tuskegee Airman

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The Tuskeegee Airman were a group of all-black fighter and bomber pilots, the first aviators of their race in the US Armed Forces. The 992 pilots faced heavy segregation and discrimination within the Army and Air Force, which initially kept them from combat despite their extensive training. By the end of the WWII, they had completed over 1,000 combat missions, destroyed 112 aircraft, 950 rail cars, 1 destroyer and 40 boats/barges, earning over 750 Bronze Stars, Air Medals and Purple Hearts. The pilots painted the tails of their aircraft red to distinguish the units, earning the nickname “red tails.” A 2012 film on the group can be seen in its entirety here.