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Local lifestyle columnists

Recognize any of these early pioneers?

By From page A2 | February 21, 2013

If you haven’t heard of many of these pioneers, you’re not alone, as most of them are not included in any books. In fact, the idea for this column came when I received a brochure in the mail from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum is being built on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., located on five acres adjacent to the Washington Monument and the National Museum of History.

The museum ground-breaking ceremony took place Feb. 22, 2012.

Their colorful brochure caught my attention, and I went about looking for others who lived and aspired for a better life in times far different from ours.

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of these acts will be written the history of each generation,” Robert Kennedy once said.

Meet Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman to earn a pilot’s license. She grew up dreaming of a career in aviation but was not allowed to attend U.S. flight schools. So she trained in France, earned her pilot’s license in 1921, and returned to the U.S. to become a barnstorming entertainer in the 1920s.

Charles Patterson escaped from slavery in West Virginia and went on to launch a successful automobile company in Ohio that was owned and operated by African-Americans. From 1915 to 1930, the Patterson-Greenfield Company manufactured its own line of cars, truck and buses. The company closed during the Great Depression.

Coppin State University in Baltimore is named after Fanny Jackson Coppin, the first African-American principal of an educational institution. Born into slavery, her aunt purchased her freedom for $125. Coppin mastered Latin, Greek and mathematics after enrolling at Oberlin College in 1860. She served as a principal for 32 years.

Oliver Lewis, on May 17, 1875, was the first jockey to win the Kentucky Derby during its inaugural race at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Fourteen of the 15 jockeys in the historic race were African-Americans.

On July 9, 1893, Daniel Hale Williams became the first doctor to perform a successful open-heart surgery. He graduated from what is now Northwestern University Medical School in 1883, establishing Provident Hospital and Training School Association in 1891. Three years later, he was named chief surgeon at the Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., on Howard University’s campus. He helped set up the National Medical Association and served as vice president. He became the first African-American member of the American College of Surgeons in 1913.

Sgt. William H. Carney earned the first Medal of Honor as a member of the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry on July 18, 1863. He was one of the 27 who joined the infantry once the Civil War formed the black Army units.

Born a slave in rural Grundy County, Tenn., Georgia Patton Washington dreamed of becoming a medical missionary. In 1893, she became not only the first woman to earn a medical degree from Meharry Medical College, but also the first woman of color licensed to practice medicine and surgery in the state of Tennessee.

Hiram R. Revels, minister and politician, became the first black senator in the U.S. Congress on Feb. 25, 1870. A Republican from Mississippi, he served for 13 months. Revels also served as a chaplain during the Civil War. After retirement from politics, he became president of Alcorn University.

Inventor and engineer Garrett A. Morgan received a patent for his three-way traffic signal on Nov. 20, 1923. The red, green or amber light revolutionized traffic control. Shortly before his death in 1963, the United States government awarded him a citation for his invention.

Charles Randolph Uncles became the first black Catholic priest to be ordained in the United States on Dec. 19, 1891. Ordained at the then-Cathedral of the Assumption in Baltimore, he was fluent in Latin, Greek and French and served as a priest for 42 years.

If you would like to make a donation, please go top the museum’s website at www.AfricanAmerican.si.edu and click on the Donate link at the top-right portion of the home page.

Mayrene Bates is a trustee on the Solano County Board of Education.

Mayrene Bates

Mayrene Bates is a trustee with the Solano County Board of Education.

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