Violette Neatley Anderson (1882 – 1937) was the first African American female attorney to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court. Born in London, England, her family moved to Chicago, IL when she was a child. After graduating from high school in 1899, she continued her education by attending the Chicago Athenaeum and the Chicago Seminar of Sciences. In 1903 she married Albert Johnson. The two quickly divorced. In 1906, she married Dr. Daniel H. Anderson.
Before attending Chicago Law school she worked as a court reporter for 15 years. Graduating in 1902, she passed the bar exam and then started a successful private law practice; making her one of the first women of any race to establish a private law practice in the state of Illinois.
In 1922 she was selected as an assistant prosecutor in Chicago; making her the first African American and the first woman to hold this role. She was admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1926.
Anderson was also active in various community organizations such as the Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, Chicago Council of Social Agencies, and the Cook County Bar Association. She also served as the 8th president of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated. Anderson was influential in the passing of the Bankhead-Jones Act in 1936. This act provided poor sharecroppers and tenant farmers with low-interest loans to support their efforts to become landowners. Violette N. Anderson died in 1937. In her will, she left her vacation home in Idlewild, Michigan to her sorority. Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. continues to honor her memory by celebrating, “Violette Anderson Day” annually during the month of April.
Barbara Hillary (1931 – ) is the first known African American woman to reach both the North and South Poles. She was born in New York City and raised by her mother. Her father died when she was just a year old. Hillary earned both a bachelors degree and masters degree from the New School University in New York City. She worked in the field of nursing until her retirement. Hillary is also the founder, editor-in-chief of The Peninsula Magazine, a multi-racial publication and non-profit located in Queens, NY.
Before there were telephones, Morse Code, emails, text messaging, or even instant messaging there was the “Talking Drum”. The talking drum is an instrument that mimics the rhythm and tone of human speech. Dating back to between the 7th and 13th centuries, it is believed that the talking drum may have originated from three possible sources: Ghana Empire, the Hausa people, and/or the Yoruba people. Talking drums have many different names depending on their origin including, Dondo, Tamanin, Lunna and Dundon; to name a few. Each African tribe had its own rhythmic patterns and sounds when playing the instrument; creating their own musical “dialect”. The talking drum was used as a form of communication; being that it was often faster and easier to communicate with other groups via drumming rather than delivering in-person messages. The talking drum was often played during ceremonies and as a form of entertainment. It should be noted that talking drums are not limited to African and have also been found in Asia as well.
Estelle Massey Osborne (1901 – 1981) was the eighth of eleven children. She was born in Palestine, Texas. Her parents were determined that all of their children would pursue higher education. All of her older sisters pursued careers in teaching. Osborne’s mother had two requirements for her daughters. They were required to complete high school. The other requirement was that they would never (as children) be employed by white people. She wanted her children to grow up confident in their identities; before they experienced ill treatment from whites.
After graduating from high school, Osborne followed her sisters in pursuing a career in teaching. Teaching was not a profession that suited her. She eventually went to live with her brother; hoping to pursue a career in dentistry. Already a dentist, her brother did not think the field suited her and encouraged her to pursue employment in nursing. Desperate for students, she was accepted on the spot when she applied. Osborne was particularly interested in obstetrics. In 1923, After completing the nursing program she achieved the highest score in the state on the nursing exam.
Osborne persevered in her new profession despite working in an environment where she was overlooked for positions for which she was more qualified than her white co-workers. Other staff also refused to consult with her even in her areas of expertise; preferring instead to speak with white nurses. Osborne would eventually go on to become president of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses. One of her goals as a leader of this organization was to eliminate the need for separate organizations. She achieved her goal in 1946 when the American Nursing Association began to integrate its membership.
Osborne played a key role through her leadership in advocating to address the racism and discrimination faced by black nurses.
Osborne felt compelled to seek additional education and applied for a Rosenwald Fund Scholarship. At the time no African American nurse had ever received a nursing fellowship. Osborne chose to resign from her job even before hearing that she had received the fellowship. With funding from the fellowship, she was the first African American nurse to earn a Master’s Degree in nursing 1931.
After completing a nursing assignment for the Rosenwald Fellowship, she accepted the position of Director of Education for Freedman’s Hospital in Washington DC. She was the first African American woman to hold this position. Osborne would also take a leadership role with the National Nursing Council for War Service. In this role, she would be tasked with exploring how black nurses could be integrated into the armed services in anticipation of World War II.
Osborne worked diligently to get the armed forces to change their practices while also working with nursing schools to admit more students of color. Two years later the number of training schools went from 14 to 38 while the number of nurses of color in the Army doubled and the Navy finally began to admit black nurses as well, though at nowhere near the rate of the Army. Following World War II, Osborne joined the Board of Directors of the American Nursing Association from 1948-1952 (another first for an African American woman). She then served as the Assistant Director and then Director of the National League For Nursing (1954-1959).
Not much is known about the remaining years of this trailblazers life. She died in 1981.
George Theophilus Walker (1922 – 2018) was an African American composer. Walker held professorships at distinguished schools such as Smith College, where he became the first black tenured faculty member; Rutgers University, Peabody Institute in Maryland, University of Colorado, University of Delaware and at New York’s New School. Walker fancied himself to be more of a pianist rather than a composer. He made his professional debut with a solo recital at Town Hall in New York. According to Walker, he was the first African American composer to perform at Town Hall in 1945. He would follow this performance two weeks later with another “first”; being the first African American composer to perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Walker would later reflect that it was through these performances that he experienced the “stigma” of race. Undeterred, he would continue to build his career as an academic and composer; as well as becoming an outspoken critic of racism within his circles.
Freddie Figgers (1989 – ), is an African American inventor, entrepreneur, and computer programmer. He is the CEO and founder of Figgers Wireless. The company is located in Quincy, Florida. Figgers’ rise from being abandoned and left in a dumpster at birth to becoming CEO of a company valued at over $62 million is nothing short of amazing! After being abandoned at birth, Figgers was adopted by two loving parents. He got his start in computers at the age of 9, when he received a broken computer which he was able to fully repair.
Upon learning that his father had Alzheimer’s, Figgers invented a shoe with a GPS tracker and a two-way communicator. He would later sell this invention for millions of dollars. At age 12, he was hired as a computer technician. By age 15, he had launched his own cloud computing service. Figgers would become the youngest person in history to hold an FCC license which he would use to launch, Figgers Wireless. It is the sole black-owned company in the country which manufactures its own 4G phone and 5G smartphones.
Queen Amina of Zaria (1533 – 1610), commonly known as the Hausa “warrior queen” is considered one of the greatest military leaders of the 16th century. She was often referred to as being, “‘a woman as capable as a man.” Born into a wealthy family, she gained military skill by training with soldiers from the Zazzau military. She was the oldest daughter of Queen Bakwa Turunku. Her leadership abilities were discovered early by her grandfather, who allowed her to accompany him to state meetings.
Also aware of her abilities, her mother Queen Bakwa vowed to raise her to become a queen. Born in Zaria, (what is now the northwest region of Nigeria) she lived about 200 years before the British colonial rule in the 19th century. She became queen in approximately 1576, following the 10-year rule of her brother. Queen Amina was highly respected by the Zazzau military of pre-colonial Nigeria. Soon after becoming queen she led her first military battle. Her military campaigns would continue, largely uninterrupted throughout her 34-year reign. Queen Amina lead an army of 20,000 men in expanding Zazzau territory (Hausa Kingdom). Her military conquests amassed great riches.
Louis Charles Roudanez (1823-1870) founded one of the first black daily newspapers for Blacks in the U.S in New Orleans, Louisiana. (The first Black Newspaper published by a black person was Freedom’s Journal in 1827). Roudanez used the publication to advocate for the abolition of slavery, voting rights for all, desegregation, and land ownership rights for those formerly enslaved. Roudanez was also an accomplished physician respected by both blacks and whites in his community.
During the 1800s the city of New Orleans was very different from the rest of the country. New Orleans was home to a large number of free black Creoles (free people of color of French or Spanish descent and mixed heritage). Creoles enjoyed privileges that were not given to slaves or even most free blacks. Creoles comprised about ten percent of the black population in Louisiana. They were typically affluent, educated, and often business owners. Many used their affluence to advocate for abolition and civil rights. Continue reading “Dr. Louis C. Roudanez: Physician, Journalist & Activist”→
R & B singer, James Ingram has died at the age of 66. A native of Akron, Ohio, Ingram was a double Grammy award winner and two time Oscar nominee.
In the 1970’s Ingram got his start performing with the Akron Ohio group, Revolution Funk before becoming a session artist working with artists such as Ray Charles and Marvin Gaye. Although a talented musician who played multiple instruments, his signature baritone voice ultimately became his claim to fame. Ingram’s soulful voice dominated the R&B scene during the 80’s and early 90’s. News outlet TMZ reports that Ingram was suffering from brain cancer. During his career, he achieved 8 top forty hits, including his 1982 duet with Patti Austin, “Baby Come To Me”, and “I Don’t Have A Heart” released in the 90’s which went No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. His songwriting abilities caught the attention of Quincy Jones.