|BENJAMIN BANNEKER |
Benjamin Banneker was born on November 9, 1731, in Ellicott’s Mills, Maryland. A free black man who owned a farm near Baltimore, Banneker was largely self-educated in astronomy and mathematics. He was later called upon to assist in the surveying of territory for the construction of the nation’s capital. He also became an active writer of almanacs and exchanged letters with Thomas Jefferson, politely challenging him to do what he could to ensure racial equality. Banneker died on October 9, 1806.Banneker’s true acclaim came from his almanacs, which he published for six consecutive years during the later years of his life, between 1792 and 1797. These handbooks included his own astronomical calculations as well as opinion pieces, literature and medical and tidal information, with the latter particularly useful to fishermen.
|BESSIE COLEMAN |
In 1922, Coleman became the world’s first black woman to earn a pilot’s license. Because flying schools in the United States denied her entry, she took it upon herself to learn French and move to France to achieve her goal. After only seven months, Coleman earned her license from France’s well known Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation.
Though she wanted to start a flying school for African Americans when she returned to the U.S., Coleman specialized in stunt flying and parachuting, and earned a living barnstorming and performing aerial tricks. In 1922, hers was the first public flight by an African- American woman in America. Coleman was killed in an accident during a rehearsal for an aerial show. She was only 34 years old.
|CHARLES ANDERSON |
Charles Alfred Anderson, often called the “Father of Black Aviation,” because of his training and mentoring of hundreds of African American pilots. Charles Anderson earned the name “Chief” because he was the most ranked and experienced African American pilot before coming to Tuskegee Army Air Field (TAAF) in 1940. By that point he had amassed 3,500 hours of flight prompting most of his contemporaries, and students to call him by that name as a sign of their respect for his accomplishments. Anderson was also the Chief flight Instructor for all cadets and flight instructors at Tuskegee, Alabama during World War II.
|DOROTHY VAUGHN |
Dorothy Vaughan came to the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in 1943, during the height of World War II, to take what she believed would be a temporary war job. Dorothy was assigned to the segregated “West Area Computing” unit, an all-black group of female mathematicians, who were originally required to use separate dining and bathroom facilities. Over time the West Computers distinguished themselves with contributions to virtually every area of research at Langley. Dorothy Vaughan helmed West Computing for nearly a decade. In 1958, when the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) made the transition to NASA, segregated facilities, including the West Computing office, were abolished. Dorothy and many of the former West Computers joined the new Analysis and Computation Division (ACD), a racially and gender-integrated group on the frontier of electronic computing. Dorothy Vaughan became an expert FORTRAN programmer, and she also contributed to the Scout Launch Vehicle Program.
|EUGENE BULLARD |
Eugene James Bullard, was the first African-American military pilot whose life has been surrounded by many legends. Bullard, who flew for France Escadrille N.93 (French: Escadrille SPA 93) based at Beauzée-sur-Aire south of Verdun in 1917. He was unquestionably one of the few black combat pilots during World War I, where he took part in over twenty air combat missions, and he is sometimes credited with shooting down one or two German aircraft.
|GUY BLUFORD |
Guion “Guy” Bluford is a former NASA astronaut who was the first African-American to fly into space. He flew four shuttle missions. Bluford’s class of astronauts from 1978 included two other African-Americans: Ron McNair (who later died on the space shuttle Challenger in 1986) and Fred Gregory (who after flying in space, went on to become a NASA deputy administrator.)
|KATHERINE JOHNSON |
Katherine Johnson’s intense curiosity and brilliance with numbers vaulted her ahead several grades in school. By thirteen, she was attending the high school on the campus of historically black West Virginia State College. At eighteen, she enrolled in the college itself, where she made quick work of the school’s math curriculum and found a mentor in math professor W. W. Schieffelin Claytor, the third African American to earn a PhD in Mathematics. Katherine graduated with highest honors in 1937 and took a job teaching at a black public school in Virginia. Katherine left her teaching job, and enrolled in the graduate math program. At the end of the first session, however, she decided to leave school to start a family with her husband.
|MAE JEMISON |
Astronaut Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman to enter space when she served on the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavor in September 1992. Jemison’s life, however, is also full of terrestrial accomplishments. A high school graduate at the age of 16, she attended Stanford University on a scholarship, graduating with a B.S. degree in chemical engineering and having fulfilled the requirements for an A.B. in African and Afro-American Studies. After graduating from medical school (Cornell University, 1981), Jemison joined the Peace Corps, serving as its area medical officer from 1983 to 1985 in the West African countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia. After serving in NASA from 1987 to 1993, Jemison founded The Jemison Group, Inc., which developed ALAFIYA, a satellite-based telecommunications systems intended to improve health care delivery in developing nations. She also was a professor in the Environmental Studies Program at Dartmouth College, where she directed the Jemison Institute for Advancing Technology in Developing Countries
|MARY JACKSON |
Mary Jackson began her engineering career in an era in which female engineers of any background were a rarity; in the 1950s, she very well may have been the only black female aeronautical engineer in the field. Mary’s own path to an engineering career at the NASA Langley Research Center was far from direct. Jackson graduated from Hampton Institute in 1942 with a dual degree in Math and Physical Sciences, and accepted a job as a math teacher. Hampton Institute had become one of the nerve centers of the World War II home front effort, and after a year of teaching, Mary returned home, finding a position as the receptionist at the King Street USO Club. It would take three more career changes before Mary landed at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory’s segregated West Area Computing section in 1951, reporting to the group’s supervisor Dorothy Vaughan. In 1979, she worked hard to impact the hiring and promotion of the next generation of all of NASA’s female mathematicians, engineers and scientists.
|NICHELLE NICHOLS |
Nichols’ Star Trek character, Lieutenant Uhura, was one of the first African American female characters on American television not portrayed as a servant. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. personally praised her work on the show and asked her to remain when she considered leaving the series. After the cancellation of Star Trek, Nichols volunteered her time in a special project with NASA to recruit minority and female personnel for the space agency. She began this work by making an affiliation between NASA and a company which she helped to run, Women in Motion.
|RON MCNAIR |
Ronald Erwin McNair was an American physicist and NASA astronaut. In 1971, he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering Physics, magna cum laude, from North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina. McNair was a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. In 1976, he received a Ph.D. degree in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under the guidance of Michael Feld, becoming nationally recognized for his work in the field of laser physics. In 1978, McNair was selected as one of thirty-five applicants from a pool of ten thousand for the NASA astronaut program. He flew on STS-41-B aboard Challenger from 3–11 February 1984, as a mission specialist becoming the second African American and the first Bahá’í to fly in space.
Following this mission, McNair was selected for STS-51-L, which launched on 28 January 1986, and was subsequently killed when Challenger disintegrated nine miles above the Atlantic Ocean just 73 seconds after liftoff.
| ROSCOE BROWN |
Roscoe Conkling Brown Jr. was one of the Tuskegee Airmen and a squadron commander of the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group. He graduated from the Tuskegee Flight School on March 12, 1944 as member of class 44-C-SE and served in the U.S. Army Air Forces in Europe during World War II. During this period, Captain Brown shot down an advanced German Me-262 jet fighter and a FW-190 fighter.