A Science-Fiction “Genius”

(June 22, 1947- February 24, 2006)

Octavia Estelle Butler

Octavia Butler, a writer of science fiction, brought elements of African and African-American spiritualism, mysticism, and mythology to her novels and stories.

Octavia Estelle Butler was born an only child on July 22, 1947, in Pasadena to a housemaid Octavia Butler and shoeshine man Laurice. Her father passed away when she was a baby, so she was raised by her grandmother and her mother. As a girl, she was known as Junie, derived from “Junior” since her mother was also named Octavia. Butler’s mother worked as a maid to provide for the family after her father died, but nonetheless they continued to struggle in a poor but racially mixed neighborhood throughout her childhood. At the time, Pasadena was a more racially integrated city than others around the country. Still, Butler would later recount memories of blatant racism her mother endured at the hands of her employers — including racial slurs and not being allowed to enter residences through the front door.

Bulter grew up shy, losing herself in books despite having dyslexia. Bulter’s mom could not afford books, but she brought home the discards of the white families for whom she worked. Butler began writing when she was 10 years old.

Butler earned an associate’s degree from Pasadena City College in 1968, and later studied at California State University, Los Angeles. Over the years, Bulter would religiously get up each day at 2 a.m. to write.

Her novel, Kindred (1979), introduced the science fiction community to slavery in the United States through a narrative involving time travel, while Parable of the Sower (1993) raised questions about the environment, technology, theology, and metaphysics.

Butler’s Patternists series includes five novels published between 1976 and 1984, and investigates issues of gender and class identity within a society managed by an elite group of telepaths. Her Xenogenesis trilogy, including Dawn (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988), and Imago (1989), depicts the near destruction of the human world due to prejudice, class conflict, and violence.

In 1995 Octavia Butler was given a MacArthur Fellowship, the first science fiction writer to receive the award. She also received two Hugo Awards from the World Science Fiction Society and two Nebula Awards from the Science Fiction Writers of America.

Butler died on February 24, 2006, after falling and striking her head on a walkway outside her home in Lake Forest Park, Washington. Her books have been translated into 10 languages and have sold more than a million copies altogether.

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Bill Robinson

(May 25, 1878- November 25, 1949)

Bill “Bojangles” Luther Robinson was an African American tap dancer, actor and activist. Born in Richmond, Virginia on May 25, 1878, Bill got his nickname “Bojangles” from “jangler,” meaning contentious, and invented the phrase “Everything’s Copasetic,” meaning tip-top.

Robinson’s father Maxwell was a machine shop worker, and mother Maria a choir singer. Both parents died in 1885, when Robinson was young so he was raised by his grandmother Bedelia, a former slave. At the age of five, Robinson made pocket money shining shoes and danced for pennies. Robinson received many disapproval arguments from his Baptist grandmother who thought dancing was the devil’s work.

Despite his grandmother’s disapproval protest Robinson continued his work until he was spotted by someone who gave him a job as a “pick”, short for pickanniny, child performers who supplied the cute factor in Black and White minstrel shows. Robinson never liked the name Luther and took on his brother’s name Bill, bestowing on his brother the name Percy.

At the age of nine, Robinson toured with Mayme Remington and Her Pickanninies, an all-African-American Vaudeville troupe. But when he outgrew the Pick roles, he moved on to doing a solo act in clubs and bars.

In 1898 he joined the US Army during its war against Spain, returning to show business when his duty ended. Robinson made a name for himself in 1900 when he challenged Harry Swinton, then considered America’s best dancer, to a dance-off and won.

However, he was often constrained by rules that “coloured” entertainers had to perform in pairs or paired with a white performer. Dexterous, energetic and always cheerful on stage and screen, offstage Robinson also worked to break down barriers for African-Americans.

In 1914, his white co-star, Rae Samuels, introduced him to agent Marty Forkins who became his manager and urged him to go solo.

When the US entered the war in 1917, Robinson offered his services to entertain the troops. It was the first time he performed in front of an audience that wasn’t all African-American. It earned him a War Department Commendation in 1918.

In 1922, he married Fannie Clay who became his business manager, secretary, and partner in efforts to fight the barriers of racial prejudice. A founding member of the Negro Actors Guild of America, Robinson was also named “Mayor of Harlem” in 1933.

Hailed as “The Dark Cloud of Joy” on the Orpheum Circuit, he performed in vaudeville from 1914-1927 without a single season’s layoff.

Broadway fame came with the all-black revue, Blackbirds of 1928, in which he sang and danced “Doin’ the New Low Down.” Success was instantaneous. He was hailed as the greatest of all dancers by at least seven New York newspapers. Brown Buddies (1930), Blackbirds of 1933, All in Fun (1940) and Memphis Bound (1945) followed.

Robinson turned to Hollywood films in the thirties, a venue hitherto restricted to blacks. His first film, Dixiana (1930) had a predominantly white cast; Harlem is Heaven (1933) was the first all-black film ever made.

The Hot Mikado (1939) marked Robinson’s sixty-first birthday, which he celebrated by dancing down all 61 blocks of Broadway, one block for each year.

As a publicity stunt he set a world record running 100 yards backwards in 13.5 seconds. This record stood until 1977.

After several more film appearances, he was cast in The Little Colonel. On set Shirly Temple and Robinson quickly took to each other, she called him “Uncle Billy”, and he called her “darlin”, their mutual affection made for great screen chemistry. He was cast with Temple in three more films — The Littlest Rebel (1935), Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938) and Just Around the Corner (1938).

He continued performing in his 60s, doing stage and radio shows, making films, appearing in benefit concerts, including those for WWII and the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).

Robinson also convinced President Franklin Roosevelt to implement a better pay deal for negro soldiers serving in the war.

At the peak of his fame he was earning $6000 a week, but he was overly generous with his money and had a gambling habit, that left him struggling financially. Throughout his lifetime, he was a member of many clubs and civic organizations and an honorary member of police departments in cities across the United States. His participation in benefits is legendary and it is estimated that he gave away well over one million dollars in loans and charities.

Bill “Bojangies” Robinson died of a chronic heart condition on November 25, 1949.

Performers and fans of dance still pay tribute to Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, a man of professional genius and personal generosity.

In 1989 a joint U.S. Senate/ House resolution declared “National Tap Dance Day” to be May 25th, the anniversary of Bill Robinson’s birth.

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1st P.h.D in Chemistry

(April 16, 1921-October 28, 2003)

Marie Maynard Daly

The first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry.

Marie M. Daly was born in 1921 in Corona, New York. Her parents inspired her passion for science; her mother fostered her love of books and her father passed on his love of chemistry. Before Marie was born, her father had enrolled at Cornell University to study chemistry, but ultimately had to leave due to a lack of money.

Marie’s parents were strong believers in education at a time when attending college was seen as impossible to many African Americans. As a woman of color, Marie overcame financial, gender, and racial hurdles. Hence, after graduating from Hunter College High School, an all-girls institution in New York City, Marie attended Queens College in Flushing, New York, where she majored in chemistry choosing to live at home in order to save money.

Marie graduated magna cum laude in 1942 with a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry and was offered a fellowship to pursue her graduate studies at New York University, whilst working part-time as a laboratory assistant at Queens College. Marie completed her Master’s degree in just one year.

In 1944, Marie enrolled at Columbia University as a doctoral student, where she undertook research into compounds the body produces and how these affect digestion. Working under the direction of Dr. Mary L Caldwell (the first female assistant professor at Columbia University), Marie completed her PhD with a thesis entitled “A study of the products formed by the action of pancreatic amylase on corn starch”.

In 1947, she became the first African American woman in the United States to be awarded a PhD in chemistry.

Dr. Daly made important contributions in four areas of research: the chemistry of histones, protein synthesis, the relationships between cholesterol and hypertension, and creatine’s uptake by muscle cells.

Dr. Marie Maynard Daly, whose pioneering research resulted in a new understanding of the relationship between high cholesterol and clogged arteries. In fact, Dr. Daly’s work helped to shape much of what we now know about the biochemical aspects of cardiovascular health, identifying the link between high cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease, which led to a better understanding of the causes of heart attacks.

Dr. Daly continued to teach and carry out pioneering research at Albert Einstein College, including the study into the effects of cigarette smoking on the lungs, until she retired in 1986.

Notably, Dr. Daly made significant contributions to the field of biochemistry while also advocating for increased enrollment of students of color in medical schools and science graduate programs. In honor of her father, she even created a scholarship program for minority students pursuing science degrees at Queens College.

In 1999, Dr. Marie Maynard Daly was recognized by the National Technical Association as one of the top 50 women in Science, Engineering and Technology.

Dr. Daly died on October 28, 2003.

Dr. Marie Maynard Daly’s impact on future generations of scientists extends far beyond her scientific contributions—her memory continues to inspire individuals from all walks of life to pursue careers in STEM.

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1st African American Astronaut

Robert Henry Lawrence Jr.

(October 2, 1935 -December 8, 1967)

Robert Henry Lawrence Jr., was a United States Air Force officer and the first African-American astronaut.

Major Lawrence was born on October 2, 1935, in Chicago, Illinois. At the age of 16, he was a graduate in the top 10% of Englewood High School.

At the age of 20, he became a graduate of Bradley University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry. In addition, while a student at Bradley University, he distinguished himself as Cadet Commander of the Bradley Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps and, upon graduation, received the commission of Second Lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve Program.

At the age of 21 he had become an Air Force pilot after completing flight training at Malden Air Force Base.

At the age of 22, he married the former Ms. Barbara Cress, the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Henry Cress of Chicago. As he approached the age of 26, he had completed an Air Force assignment as an instructor pilot in the T-33 training aircraft for members of the German Air Force.

At the age of 30, Major Lawrence earned a Doctorate Degree in Physical Chemistry from Ohio State University during which time his grade point average (GPA) was above 3.5. His dissertation related to that part of chemistry which involved the conversion of tritium rays to methane gas.

At the age of 31, he served two roles in the Air Force; that of an Air Force pilot and also a research scientist in the Air Force Weapon’s Laboratory at Kirkland Air Force Base, New Mexico. While still in the Air Force, Lawrence earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Ohio State University in 1965.

At the age of 32, Major Lawrence was a senior pilot with over 2,500 flying hours, 2,000 of these in jet aircraft. He tested several aircraft, including the supersonic Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. His research became instrumental in bringing space shuttles safely back from orbit.

Major Lawrence successfully completed the Air Force Test Pilot Training School at Edwards Air Force Base in June 1967 and was selected to become an astronaut in the USAF’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) and therein becoming the First African American Astronaut on June 10, 1967. The Manned Orbital Laboratory Program was a precursor to the Shuttle Program.

Tragically, just six months later, in December of 1967, Lawrence was the backseat passenger flying as in instructor to a student pilot learning the steep descent glide technique. The pilot flying the F-104 made an approach to land but flared too late, causing the jet to crash. The pilot of the plane ejected successfully, however, by the time Lawrence ejected the plane had rolled onto its side and was on fire. Lawrence was killed instantly. The Purple Heart was posthumously awarded to Lawrence.

On December 8,1997 Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr.’s name was inscribed on the Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Memorial was dedicated in 1991 to honor of all astronauts who have lost their lives on space missions or training for missions.

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1st to Gold

Alice Coachman

(November 9, 1923–July 14, 2014)

Alice Coachman Davis was an American athlete and the first black woman to win the Olympic gold medal in high jump.

Alice Coachman was from Albany, Georgia, the fifth child of Fred and Evelyn Coachman’s ten children. Coachman grew up in the segregated South. Barred from public sports facilities because of her race, Coachman used whatever materials she could piece together to practice jumping to develop as an athlete.

Coachman received encouragement from her fifth-grade teacher, Cora Bailey, at Monroe Street Elementary School and from her aunt, Carrie Spry, who defended her niece’s interest in sports in the face of parental reservations.

In 1938, when Coachman enrolled in Madison High School, she immediately joined the track team. The Madison boys’ track coach, Harry E. Lash, recognized and nurtured her talent. She quickly attracted the attention of the Tuskegee Institute, in Tuskegee, Alabama, where she enrolled in the high school program in 1939. Even before classes started, she competed in and won her first Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) national championship in the high jump.

That day she broke the AAU high school and college women’s high jump records while barefoot. She won the AAU outdoor high jump championship for the next nine years, also winning three indoor high jump championships. Coachman excelled in the sprints and basketball as well; competing at Tuskegee Institute from 1940 to 1946. There she won national track and field championships in the 50 and 100-meter dashes, the 4 X 100 meter relay, and the running high jump; and as a guard, she led the Tuskegee basketball team to three consecutive conference championships.

At Albany State College in Georgia, Coachman continued high jumping in a personal style that combined straight jumping and the western roll technique.

At the 1948 Olympics in London, her teammate Audrey Patterson earned a bronze medal in the 200-meter sprint to become the first Black woman to win a medal.

In the high jump finals Coachman leaped 5 feet 6 1/8 inches (1.68 m) on her first try. Her nearest rival, Britain’s Dorothy Tyler, matched Coachman’s jump, but only on her second try, making Coachman the only American woman to win a gold medal in that year’s Games.

Altogether she won 25 AAU indoor and outdoor titles before retiring in 1948.

In 1952, she became the first African American woman to sponsor a national product, after signing an endorsement deal with Coca Cola.

Coachman’s post-Olympic life centered on teaching elementary and high school, coaching, and working briefly in the Job Corps. She also taught physical education at South Carolina State College, Albany State College, and Tuskegee High School. Coachman retired from teaching in 1987.

Coachman was one of 12 torchbearers for the Atlanta Olympic games in 1996. She was also inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1997 and the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 2004.

Alice Coachman died on July 14th, 2014 in Alabama.

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A Genius Folklorist and Novelist of the South

Zora Neale Hurston

(January 7, 1891- January 28, 1960)

Zora Neale Hurston, an influential author of African-American literature, an outstanding anthropologist.

Zora Neale Hurston born to enslaved parents in Notasulga, Alabama on January 15, 1891. Hurston relocated at a young age with her to Eatonville, Florida. Eventually, her father became one of the town’s first mayors.

In 1917, Hurston enrolled at Morgan College, where she completed her high school studies. She then attended Howard University and earned an associate’s degree. Hurston was an active student and participated in student government. She also co-founded the school’s renowned newspaper, The Hilltop.

In 1925, Hurston received a scholarship to Barnard College and graduated three years later with a BA in anthropology. During her time as a student in New York City, Hurston befriended other writers such as Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. Together, the group of writers joined the black cultural renaissance which was taking place in Harlem.

Throughout her life, Hurston, dedicated herself to promoting and studying black culture. She traveled to both Haiti and Jamaica to study the religions of the African diaspora. Her findings were also included in several newspapers throughout the United States. Hurston often incorporated her research into her fictional writing. As an author Hurston, started publishing short stories as early as 1920.

Unfortunately, her work was ignored by the mainstream literary audience for years. However, she gained a following among African Americans. In 1935, she published Mules and Men.

She later, collaborated with Langston Hughes to create the play, Mule Bone. She published three books between 1934 and 1939.

One of her most popular works was Their Eyes were Watching God. The fictional story chronicled the tumultuous life of Janie Crawford. Hurston broke literary norms by focusing her work on the experience of a black woman.

Hurston was not only a writer, she also dedicated her life to educating others about the arts.

In 1934, she established a school of dramatic arts at Bethune-Cookman College. Five years later she worked as a drama teacher at the North Carolina College for Negroes at Durham. Although Hurston eventually received praise for her works, she was often underpaid.

Therefore, she remained in debt and poverty. After years of writing, Hurston had to enter the St. Lucie County Welfare Home as she was unable to take care of herself. Hurston died of heart disease on January 28, 1960. At first, her remains were placed in an unmarked grave. In 1972, author Alice Walker located her grave and created a marker. Although, Hurston’s work was not widely known during her life, in death she ranks among the best writers of the 20thcentury. Her work continues to influences writers throughout the world.

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Listening to the New Generation

Ebony Brown





off the bus

girls grabbed



talked slick




Left fist

to right eye,

right fist

to the rib,

in self-defense

she came



my crib.

Ebony Brown

was weird

preferred to be



never home,


knew her dad,


around school

was really




To my door




open arms

to listening


she stay

the night







her off

to school

in the morning


an extra mile


to share

a smile

and our day

making sure

Ebony Brown

got home

safe and okay


she moved


graduating at the


of her class

She wrote: Because of You.