Medium has been posting these amazing series about ‘Black American Heroes You Never Learned About in School’ and has included Dr. Patricia Bath in the mix for their 4th installment! The article includes Walter “Wiley” Jones, Granville T. Woods, and Septima Poinsette Clark, which you can learn more down below or on the full article on Medium.
Written by Kevon DuPree
Posted on Medium, July 10, 2020.
This week’s installment features four hustlers who worked relentlessly to earn every accolade and accomplishment they achieved. One started his life in bondage. The others faced several other challenges that come with being Black in America.
However, the one thing that each of them refused to do was make excuses. They refused to be a prisoner of their circumstances. They worked hard, studied hard, networked with the right people and made the most of their situation.
Of course they came face-to-face with racism and white supremacy on many occasions, after all, we’re talking about America here. But they didn’t let that deter them. Each of them knew they had a goal to achieve, a purpose to fulfill and continued to fight until they made their dream a reality.
We can all learn something from these four Black American Heroes, as well as the heroes in the previous installments. Part of being Black in America means you’re going to have to work twice as hard just to seem half as good.
That’s okay with me, though. I know I’m destined to accomplish great things and make a difference in this world. I’m up for the challenge. Are you?
Dr. Patricia Bath
Patricia Bath cemented herself as a true trailblazer in the medical field over her 30+ year career. Not only was she the first Black American to complete a residency in ophthalmology, or the first woman to chair an ophthalmology residency training program in the U.S., but she made major contributions, including an invention, that shifted the medical landscape forever.
Bath was born on November 4, 1942, in New York City to Rupert and Gladys Bath. Bath’s father is credited with being the first Black motorman for the New York City subway system, and her mother was a housewife and domestic worker who saved the money she earned for her children’s education. Both parents played an integral role in Bath’s academic endeavors.
Rupert Bath taught his daughter about the wonders of travel and the value of exploring new cultures. Gladys Bath introduced her to science by buying her a chemistry set.
Bath worked diligently at her studies and at the age of 16, attended a cancer research workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Dr. Robert Bernard, the head of the program, was astounded by Bath’s findings and even included some of her work in a research paper he presented at a conference. She won the Mademoiselle magazine’s Merit Award in 1960 as a result of her work.
Bath graduated from high school in just two years and went on to attend Hunter College, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in 1964. She pursued her medical degree from Howard University and after graduating with honors in 1968, accepted an internship at Harlem Hospital. The following year, she began her fellowship at an eye clinic at Columbia University.
Bath noticed discrepancies in vision problems between the largely Black patient population at Harlem Hospital and the predominantly white population at Columbia. This led her to conclude that blindness was twice as prevalent among Black people as among white people. She also found Blacks were eight times more likely to develop glaucoma.
These issues were believed to be in large part due to Black citizens not being able to afford quality eye care. Therefore, Bath and her colleagues developed a community ophthalmology system, which increased the amount of eye care given to those who were unable to afford it.
In 1973, Bath became the first Black American to complete a residency in ophthalmology. She moved to Los Angeles the following year to serve as an assistant professor of surgery for both Charles R. Drew University and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She became the first woman faculty in the Department of Ophthalmology at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute.
In 1976, Bath co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness. In 1981, she began working on her well-known invention, the Laserphaco Probe. When she first conceived the idea of the device in 1981, her idea was more advanced than the technology available at the time. It took her nearly five years to complete the research and testing needed to make it work and apply for a patent.
Using laser technology, the Laserphaco Probe created a less painful and more precise treatment of cataracts. She received her patent in 1988, which made her the first Black female doctor to receive a patent for a medical purpose. She also holds patents in Japan, Canada and Europe.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office said in a statement in 2014 that Bath’s invention “helped restore or improve vision to millions of patients worldwide.”
The Laserphaco Probe could even restore the sight of individuals who had been blind for more than 30 years. “The ability to restore sight is the ultimate reward,” Bath said.
Bath died on May 30, 2019, at the age of 76.
A fact about Dr. Patricia Bath: A children’s book titled The Doctor with an Eye for Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath (2017) details all of her life achievements.
Walter “Wiley” Jones
Walter “Wiley” Jones was an ex-slave turned businessman who became one of the wealthiest men in the South. He amassed his fortune by becoming a barber, a saloon owner, developing Pine Bluff, Ark.’s mule-drawn streetcar system and owning the 55-arce Wiley Jones Park.
Jones was born on July 14, 1848, in Madison County, Ga. His father was George Jones, a white planter, and his mother Ann was a slave. He got the nickname “Wiley” for being untamed and playful.
In 1853, Jones and his family moved to Arkansas, where they lived on former governor Richard Byrd’s plantation. Jones and his family were eventually sold to James Yell, a lawyer and planter in Pine Bluff. When Jones was 10-years-old, he was given to Yell’s son, Fountain Pitts Yell, as a wedding gift.
F. Pitts Yell enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1861 and was promoted to colonel. Jones became a camp servant for Colonel Yell. After Colonel Yell’s death, Jones moved to Waco, Texas with the remaining members of the Yell family.
The family moved back to Arkansas in 1865 and Jones worked on the Yell plantation for three more years. During that time, he was promoted to manager of the cotton plantation and made $20 per month.
In 1868, Jones moved to Pine Bluff where he worked at a local saloon for one year. In 1869, he learned to cut hair at his brother-in-law’s barbershop. He worked there for more than ten years.
Jones earned room and board by working a second job as a waiter at a nearby hotel. This allowed him to save his earnings from the barbershop, which he ultimately invested in real estate. He also used to loan money, with interest, to his friends.
In 1876, Jones opened a saloon in Pine Bluff. He also owned the Southern Mercantile Company. Jones never had the opportunity for formal education, however, he was able to learn business simply by working hard and meeting people.
Jones was fascinated with horses and horseracing, so he built a park on 55 acres of land in Pine Bluff. It served as a city recreational park with a harness racing track. The park was also home to fairs, bicycle races, baseball games and annual May Day celebrations.
In August 1886, James became one of the first Black Americans in the nation to secure a charter to operate a mule-drawn streetcar system. The Wiley Jones Street Car Lines serviced Pine Bluff for more than 4 years before it merged with the Citizens Street Railway in December 1890. This later became the electric railway, which the city bought.
Jones was one of Jefferson County, Ark.’s most influential citizens in the 1880s and 1890s. He was one of several businessmen who supported the Colored Industrial Institute, one of the first Catholic-supported schools for Black children in Arkansas. He also donated land for the construction of St. James Methodist Church.
Jones died on December 7, 1904, from a heart attack and Bright’s disease at the age of 56. He was the wealthiest Black American in Arkansas at the time of his death, with an estate worth more than $300,000 ($8.6 million today).
A fact about Wiley Jones: He owned 24 racehorses and stallions.
Granville T. Woods
Granville T. Woods has been heralded as one of the greatest inventors in American history. He registered more than 60 patents in his lifetime, including a telephone transmitter, a trolley wheel and the multiplex telegraph. His brilliance even led him to being sued by famed inventor Thomas Edison, but Woods came out victorious in the end.
Woods was born on April 23, 1856, in Columbus, Ohio to Tailer and Martha Woods. Woods and his family were free by virtue of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which prohibited slavery from the territory that included what would become Ohio.
Woods received little formal education as a child and, as a young man, primarily educated himself by taking up a variety of jobs. At the age of 10, Woods left school and apprenticed as a machinist and blacksmith in a machine shop. Woods’s lifelong interest in electrical and mechanical engineering began in this machine shop.
He learned as much as he could by working with certain machines and simply watching workers use others. Sometimes he even paid the master mechanic of the shop for private instruction.
In 1872, at 16-years-old, Woods left Ohio and embarked on a travel-and-study journey that took him all over the world. The first stop on his journey was at the Iron Mountain Railroad in Missouri, where he worked as a fireman, and later, an engineer. His interest in electricity and its application to railroads began there.
In 1874, he moved to Springfield, Ill. to work in a rolling mill. From 1876 to 1878, Woods lived in New York City, working during the day and taking courses in engineering and electricity at night. He left school in 1878 and became an engineer aboard Ironsides, a British steamer. Within two years, he became the chief engineer.
After traveling the world for two years, Woods took a job as a steam locomotive engineer for the Danville and Southern Railroad in Cincinnati, Ohio. He held this position until 1884.
Woods received his first patent in 1889. The patent was for a more efficient version of a steam boiler furnace. He and his brother, Lyates Woods, eventually opened the Woods Electric Company in Cincinnati to produce and market his own inventions.
While his first patents were mostly mechanical improvements, his later patents were mainly for electrical devices. One of his most noted inventions, the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph, was a system for letting a train engineer know how close his train was to others, which greatly reduced collisions.
He also developed a system for overhead electric conducting lines for railroads, which was instrumental in the development of overhead railroad systems in Chicago, St. Louis and New York. Among his other inventions were an automatic air brake used to slow and stop trains.
Alexander Graham Bell purchased the rights to Woods’s patent on an apparatus that combined a telephone and a telegraph. The “telegraphony” device allowed a telegraph to send voice and telegraph messages over a single wire. Bell’s purchase enabled Woods to become a full-time inventor.
Not every famous American inventor was fond of Woods’s success, however. Thomas Edison sued Woods, stating that he was the first to invent the multiplex telegraph. Woods ultimately won the court battle, and also declined Edison’s offer for a position in the engineering department at Edison Electric Light Co.
Woods died after suffering a stroke on January 30, 1910, in New York City, at the age of 53. In all, Woods invented 15 appliances for electric railways, some of which are still used today.
A fact about Granville T. Woods: He was seven feet tall.
Septima Poinsette Clark
Dubbed the “Mother of the Movement,” Septima Poinsette Clark was a pioneer in grassroots citizenship education and the epitome of a “community teacher, intuitive fighter for human rights and leader of her unlettered and disillusioned people.”
Clark was born on May 3, 1898, in Charleston, S.C. to a mother who was “fiercely proud” and a father who was gentle and tolerant. Her parents understood the importance of education, so they sent their daughter to a woman who taught children in her home across the street instead of the shabby grade school in the area. Clark eventually attended the Avery Normal School in Charleston.
In 1916, after completing secondary school and passing her teacher’s exam, Clark taught at a Black school on Johns Island off the coast of South Carolina. She, as well as all other Black teachers, were not permitted to teach at public schools in Charleston.
Clark began teaching adult literacy on Johns Island in the evenings. “Literacy means liberation,” Clark said often. She had her students write stories about their daily lives and think critically about the world around them.
Clark pursued college-level education during summer breaks. In 1937, she studied under W. E. B. Du Bois at Atlanta University before eventually earning her bachelor’s degree (1942) from Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. She earned her master’s degree from Hampton Institute (Hampton, Va.) in 1946.
Clark joined the NAACP, which prompted her to move back to Charleston and take part in the campaign to change the policy that prevented Black teachers from working in Charleston’s public schools. The campaign was a success, but the state of South Carolina soon passed legislation that led to Clark, and many other Blacks, losing their jobs.
The 1956 statute prohibited city and state employees from belonging to any civil rights organizations. After 40 years of teaching, Clark’s contract was not renewed when she refused to dissociate from the NAACP.
Clark went on to become the director of workshops at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tenn. The grassroots education center dedicated to social justice was founded by Myles Horton in 1932. This is where Clark fully developed the Citizenship School curriculum she had started on Johns Island.
One of Clark’s former students on Johns Island, Esau Jenkins, was encouraged to attend workshops at Highlander by his former teacher. Jenkins gained a good reputation on Johns Island among the Black community, but when he ran for a position on the school board, he lost. This was in large part due to so few Blacks being registered to vote.
Jenkins decided to take what he learned from Clark’s workshops and disseminate her teachings to others. He taught tobacco workers and longshoremen while on the bus (“rolling school”). He also used the back of grocery stores to emphasize the importance of literacy.
He taught in a manner that was intended to keep Clark’s teachings a secret from the white community. By 1961, 37 Citizenship Schools had been established on both the mainland and islands of South Carolina. The newly-educated Citizenship School students started a low-income housing project, credit union, nursing home and more within their communities.
Although the state of Tennessee force Highlander Folk School to close in 1961, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) established the Citizenship Education Program, modeled after Clark’s workshops. She became SCLC’s director of education and teaching, which allowed her to conduct teacher training and develop curricula.
Clark retired from SCLC in 1970. She was elected to the Charleston School Board in 1975. The following year, the governor of South Carolina reinstated her teacher’s pension after declaring she was unjustly terminated in 1956.
Clark died on December 15, 1987, on Johns Island. Her legacy is truly one to boast about. During her lifetime, Clark was responsible for training over 10,000 citizenship school teachers. In turn, those 10,000+ teachers spread her message to more than 25,000 Black Americans.
Before 1969, approximately 700,000 Black Americans became registered voters. For these reasons, she is rightfully referred to as the “Mother of the Movement.”
A fact about Septima Poinsette Clark: She trained Rosa Parks in one of her workshops just months before her famous bus altercation that helped launch the Montgomery bus boycott.