Remembering Robert Lawrence, The First African-American Astronaut

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On June 30, 1967, the U.S. Air Force selected the first African-American astronaut, Major Robert Lawrence, to train for a highly secretive mission to spy on the Soviet Union from space.

Lawrence, an accomplished jet pilot with a doctorate in physical chemistry, was selected for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program the day after he graduate from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot school in 1967. Publicly, the goal of the joint Air Force and National Reconnaissance Office project was to study whether crewed spaceflight could be useful for the military. Behind the scenes, however, MOL’s real goal was to keep an eye on the Soviet Union from low polar orbit.

From a series of small orbiting stations, two-man crews – composed entirely of Air Force officers – would spent 30 days at a time photographing Soviet operations around the world. Polar orbits are perfect for reconnaissance, because they can take advantage of the fact that the Earth rotates beneath the orbital path, giving a satellite the chance to view the entire planet at least once a day. A series of satellites, like those planned for MOL, would have even better coverage. The crews would launch and return to Earth in a modified version of the Gemini capsule that carried pairs of NASA astronauts into orbit in 1965 and 1966.

MOL astronauts trained to operate their orbital stations and take reconnaissance photographs, to work in pressure suits in case of an emergency in space, and to survive launch and re-entry in the cramped capsules. They practiced desert, jungle, and Arctic survival, but water survival was the most vital component of training. At the end of a mission, the capsule would splash down in the ocean, and the crew would have to survive at sea while they awaited pickup – which could take several days, according to astronaut Donald H. Peterson, who was part of the MOL program before transferring to NASA as a Space Shuttle astronaut.

The partially classified nature of the program meant that the Air Force announced its astronaut selections publicly, but the officers often travelled incognito for training. That presented some challenges when Lawrence’s status as the first African-American astronaut caught the attention of the public and the media.

“The rest of us were unknown, and we could travel on false I.D., and nobody knew – had any idea who I was. But they worried because the press learned to recognize [Lawrence]. In other words, they knew him on sight,” Peterson recalled in a 2002 NASA oral history interview. “And it becomes much harder to run a secret program when one of your guys is, a high interest to the media, and he really was for a while. He kind of shunned that, obviously to try to shut some of that down. We always worried that we’d show up at some place and somebody would recognize him and make a big to-do about it.” The Air Force and the NRO fully declassified the MOL program in 2015, releasing a massive archive of documents, video, and photos.

Lawrence was the perfect astronaut candidate. He’d been a cadet officer in the Air Force ROTC program during his undergraduate years at Bradley University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. At Ohio State University, he completed a doctorate in physical chemistry with a dissertation entitled The Mechanism of the Tritium Beta Ray Induced Exchange Reaction of Deuterium with Methane and Ethane in the Gas Phase. That made him the only MOL astronaut with a PhD.

Continue onto Forbes to read the complete article.

Who is Stacey Abrams?

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Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate who narrowly lost the race for Georgia governor in 2018, will deliver the Democrats’ rebuttal to President Trump’s State of the Union address Feb. 5. The response is traditionally delivered by member of Congress or a sitting governor, making Abrams an intriguing choice given that she doesn’t currently hold a political office. However, as a progressive black woman who was defeated by one of Mr. Trump’s endorsed candidates, party leaders may be hoping that she can deliver a speech which demonstrates the stark differences between Republicans and Democrats.

Biography

Abrams, who is one of six siblings, was born in 1973 in Wisconsin, although her family moved to Atlanta, Georgia, during her childhood. Both of her parents later became Methodist ministers. Abrams graduated from Spelman College, a historically black liberal arts college for women in Atlanta, and studied public policy at the University of Texas at Austin as a Harry S. Truman Scholar. Abrams received her law degree from Yale Law School in 1999.

While serving as a private tax attorney, Abrams was appointed the Deputy City Attorney for Atlanta at age 29. She was elected to the Georgia General Assembly in 2006, and became the first black woman to serve as minority leader in 2011. She became known for her ability to work across the aisle, and worked with GOP Gov. Nathan Deal on criminal justice reforms, public transportation packages and a scholarship for low-income Georgia students.

Gubernatorial race

In 2018, Abrams ran for governor of Georgia. She prevailed in a primary against Stacey Evans in part because she opted to focus on drawing out like-minded liberal voters instead of attempting to broaden her appeal to swing voters. The strategy was an outgrowth of her work with the New Georgia Project, an officially nonpartisan organization she helped establish that registered tens of thousands of mostly minority voters across the state beginning during the 2014 election cycle.

Abrams was defeated by Republican Brian Kemp in November. She initially did not concede the race to Kemp, due to concerns over voting irregularities, but acknowledged that Kemp had won later in the month. If she had won, Abrams would have been the first black female governor in the country. She remains a popular politician among Democrats, and a leader on the grassroots left. In late November, the Abrams-backed group Fair Fight Action filed a federal lawsuit challenging the way Georgia’s elections are run.

To read the complete article, head to CBS News.

Cory Booker Announces Run For President In 2020

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Democratic Sen. Cory Booker is running for president in 2020.

The junior senator from New Jersey announced his bid Friday in a video to supporters.

“I believe that we can build a country where no one is forgotten, no one is left behind … where we see the faces of our leaders on television and feel pride, not shame,” Booker said. “Together, we will channel our common pain back into our common purpose. Together, America, we will rise.”

For the complete article, continue on to Huffington Post.

First Black Colonel: Charles Young

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Charles Young was born into slavery in a two-room log cabin in Mays Lick, Ky., on March 12, 1864. His father Gabriel later fled to freedom and in 1865 enlisted as a private in the 5th Regiment, U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery. His father’s enhanced status as a “Grand Army man” impressed Charles as he grew up in Ripley, Ohio.The son was sent to an all-black elementary school, but he was able to attend Ripley’s integrated high school and graduated at the top of his class in 1881. Two years later, at the urging of his father, he took the West Point entrance examination. Twenty-year-old Young scored well, received the required nomination from Ohio’s 12th District Congressman Alphonso Hart and reported to the U.S. Military Academy in June 1884. He was the ninth black American admitted to West Point; he would be the third to graduate with a commission as a second lieutenant.

Young had a miserable time at West Point. Charles Rhodes, a white cadet in Young’s class, remembered him as “a rather awkward, overgrown lad, large-boned and robust in physique, and of a nervous, impulsive temperament.” Rhodes recalled that Young’s “life was lonesome” at West Point––hardly a surprise, as most white cadets refused to associate with blacks and subjected them to racial slurs, cruel slights and hostile treatment beyond the normal hazing.

Young considered quitting West Point after his first year, but his father convinced him to stay—though it took Young five years to complete the curriculum. He had difficulty with engineering but excelled in languages, gaining a working knowledge of Latin, Greek, French, Spanish and German. His decision to persevere was a source of pride for him, and he accepted that “duty, honor, country” must be the foundation of his life as an officer. But Young later advised a young black man interested in attending West Point that he could expect “a dog’s life there.”

Young graduated last in his 49-member class in 1889, and from 1894 until 1936 he was the lone black West Point graduate in the Army.

Assigned to the predominantly black 9th U.S. Cavalry (aka “buffalo soldiers”), Young served in Nebraska and Utah in the early 1890s before reporting to Wilberforce University, near Dayton, Ohio, as professor of military science and tactics. While at Wilberforce, Young befriended W.E.B. Du Bois, a classics professor who would become one of the leading black American intellectuals of the early 20th century. After leaving Wilberforce, Du Bois and Young continued to correspond, and Du Bois considered Young one of the “talented tenth”—those individuals whom Du Bois and other prominent black intellectuals believed would lead the struggle for racial justice in America.

Young’s patience, discipline and hard work paid off when the United States declared war on Spain in April 1898. On May 13 of that year Ohio Governor Asa S. Bushnell appointed 1st Lt. Young a brevet major in command of the 9th Battalion Ohio Volunteers, an all-black unit. While the major and his men remained stateside, Young gained valuable command experience.

At war’s end Young returned briefly to Wilberforce University before rejoining the 9th Cavalry at Fort Duchesne, Utah. While in command of I Troop, 1st Lt. Young (he had reverted to his permanent rank) learned that one of his men, Sgt. Maj. Benjamin O. Davis, wanted to apply for a commission. Young tutored Davis for the competitive examination and wrote a glowing letter of recommendation. In early 1901 Davis passed the test and was commissioned a second lieutenant. He never forgot Young’s help, particularly after becoming the first black American to reach the rank of general.

In February 1901 Young was promoted to captain in the Regular Army—another first for a black man. Two months later Young and I Troop sailed for the Philippines with the rest of the 9th Cavalry. Stationed on Samar, Young and his men fought the Filipino insurrectos in the jungles of the island’s rugged interior. During one operation Young was leading a scouting party when it came under attack. “Captain Young had fired his revolver so fast,” a corporal later recalled, “that the sight was blown off.” Young then took another officer’s pistol and kept firing at the enemy until reinforcements arrived. Such instances of combat leadership earned Young the moniker “Follow Me” from his men, who vowed they would give their lives for him. The 9th Cavalry returned stateside in late 1902.

In May 1903, 39-year-old Captain Young, three other officers and 93 enlisted soldiers left the Presidio of San Francisco for Sequoia and General Grant national parks in north-central California. In the years before the 1916 creation of the National Park Service, the Army ran America’s national parks. The War Department detailed junior officers to the Department of the Interior to serve as acting superintendents during the summer. These assignments were always short-lived; the officers never served for more than two consecutive seasons. Consequently, little was expected.

But Young threw himself into his new job. He took charge of the payroll accounts and directed the activities of the park rangers. He stopped the illegal grazing of sheep in the park’s meadows. Young had his men dig firebreaks and place fences around the giant sequoias to protect them from root damage. The men also began work on a major project: completing a road to the Giant Forest, the park’s major attraction. Civilian crews had completed two-thirds of the road during the past few seasons. Young and his troopers finished it in two months and added another two miles to the road, going on to complete an unfinished road to the town of Visalia, seven miles farther west.

Read more about Charles’ life on History Net.

Kamala Harris Joins Democratic Presidential Field

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Senator Kamala Harris, the California Democrat and barrier-breaking prosecutor who became the second black woman to serve in the United States Senate, declared her candidacy for president on Monday, joining an increasingly crowded and diverse field in what promises to be a wide-open nomination process.

The announcement was bathed in symbolism: Ms. Harris chose to enter the race on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, an overt nod to the historic nature of her candidacy, and her timing was also meant to evoke Shirley Chisholm, the New York congresswoman who became the first woman to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for president 47 years ago this week.

In addition, Ms. Harris will hold her first campaign event on Friday in South Carolina, where black voters are the dominant force in the Democratic primary, rather than start off by visiting Iowa and New Hampshire, the two predominantly white states that hold their nomination contests first. She will hold a kickoff rally Sunday in Oakland, Calif., her hometown.

For the first time, the Democratic presidential race now includes several high-profile women, with Ms. Harris joining two other prominent senators who have announced candidacies, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New YorkRepresentative Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat, has also said she is running, and more women could enter the race in the coming weeks.

Ms. Harris made her announcement on “Good Morning America” and also released a video aimed at supporters and other Democrats.

“The future of our country depends on you, and millions of others, lifting our voices to fight for our American values,” Ms. Harris said in the video. She also debuted a campaign slogan that played off her background as a prosecutor: “Kamala Harris, for the people.”

Continue onto The New York Times to read the complete article.

Martin Luther King Day: 4 Ways to Honor His Legacy

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‘Crusader: Martin Luther King Jr.’

This newly opened photography exhibition features images of Dr. King’s Gandhi-inspired pilgrimage to India in 1959 and the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in which he was honored for his nonviolent crusade against racism. The exhibition continues through April 6 at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Manhattan; nypl.org/locations/schomburg.

‘Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom’

In 1965 Lynda Blackmon Lowery marched as a teenager alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. She was jailed nine times before she turned 15 and was beaten on Bloody Sunday, when civil rights protesters were attacked by police officers and vigilantes. This play, adapted from Ms. Lowery’s memoir, dramatizes her experiences. She’ll be on hand for discussions after both matinee performances. Jan. 19 at 2 and 7 p.m., and Jan. 20 at 2 and 6 p.m. at the Riverside Church, 490 Riverside Drive; Manhattan; trcnyc.org.

‘Unsung Champions of Civil Rights From MLK to Today’

Jami Floyd and Brian Lehrer of Public Radio’s WNYC host a free program of interviews and panels focusing on the activists who have not yet received the recognition they deserve. The event will also include a photography exhibition and performances by Rutha Harris of the Freedom Singers and members of Urban Word NYC. Chester Higgins Jr., a former New York Times staff photographer, will be among the guests. RSVP in advance. Jan. 20 at 3 p.m. at the Apollo Theater; apollotheater.org/uptownhall.

Continue on to the New York Times to read the complete article.

Lauren Underwood is the youngest black woman to serve in Congress

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The 32-year-old registered nurse is one of three Democrats from Illinois sworn in to the House on Thursday.

Lauren Underwood, a Democrat from Naperville, Illinois, became the youngest black woman in history to be sworn in to the House of Representatives on Thursday afternoon.

Underwood, 32, a registered nurse with two master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University, began her political career as a policy professional in the Obama administration in 2014. Two years later, she became a senior adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services where she worked to implement the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Underwood announced her candidacy in Illinois’s 14th Congressional District in August 2017 on a platform of expanding job opportunities, investing in infrastructure and improving the ACA. She defeated the incumbent Republican, Randy Hultgren, in the Nov. 6 election, garnering 52.5 percent of the vote.

“Are you excited to make history?,” Underwood was asked Thursday afternoon as she posed for pictures on her way to the Capitol.

“A moment in history,” Underwood responded, according to The Chicago Tribune.

Underwood is one of the three Illinois Democrats who were sworn into the House on Thursday; the other two are Sean Casten and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. Her appointment means that Democrats now have a 13-5 advantage over Republicans in Illinois’ House delegation.

For her, losing was never an option.

“I learned to be a black woman in this community,” Underwood toldThe New York Times in July. “This is my home, and the idea that I might not be a good fit is an idea I never gave a lot of consideration to.”

Continue onto NBC News to read the complete article.

Dr. Gladys West, Who Helped Develop The GPS, Inducted Into Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame

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This “hidden figure” is finally getting her due praise.

A “hidden figure” in the development of GPS technology has officially been honored for her work. Mathematician Dr. Gladys West was recognized for doing the computing responsible for creating the Geographical Positioning System, more commonly referred to as the GPS.

On December 6, the 87-year-old woman was inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame by the United States Air Force during a ceremony at the Pentagon.

The Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority member, born in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, earned a full scholarship to Virginia State University after graduating high school at the top of her class. Gwen James, her sorority sister, told The Associated Press she discovered her longtime friend’s achievements when she was compiling a bio for senior members of the group.

“GPS has changed the lives of everyone forever,” James said. “There is not a segment of this global society — military, auto industry, cell phone industry, social media, parents, NASA, etc. — that does not utilize the Global Positioning System.”

Dr. West spent 42 years working on the naval base at Dahlgren, Virginia. During this time, she was one of the few women hired by the military to do advanced technological work. During the early 1960s, she was commissioned by the U.S. Naval Weapons Laboratory to support research around Pluto’s motion. From the mid-1970s to the 1980s, her computing work on a geodetic Earth model led to what became the first GPS orbit.

“This involved planning and executing several highly complex computer algorithms which have to analyze an enormous amount of data,” Ralph Neiman, her supervisor who recommended her for commendation in 1979, said. “You have used your knowledge of computer applications to accomplish this in an efficient and timely manner.”

Continue onto Blavity to read the complete article.

For the First Time in History, Two African Americans will Hold Top Leadership Positions in Congress at the Same Time

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Recently, CBC Member Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY-08) was elected chair of the Democratic Caucus, and Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn (D-SC-06) was elected Majority Whip, making it the first time in history that two African Americans will hold top leadership positions in Congress at the same time.

In response to these elections, the Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressman Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA-02), released the following statement:

“When the Congressional Black Caucus was founded in 1971, I know our 13 founding members dreamed of the day when we would have more than one member in our ranks competing for top leadership positions in Congress. Today was that day, and I know they are proud.

“When Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Congressman Hakeem Jeffries articulated to our colleagues why they were the best candidate for Democratic Caucus chair, it was one of the best displays of black brilliance that I have seen in a long time. The unfortunate part of their race against each other was that one of them had to lose.

“I congratulate Congressman Jeffries on being elected Democratic Caucus chair; he has more than demonstrated during his time in Congress that he is ready to lead in this position.

“I also congratulate Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn on being elected Majority Whip. There are few Democrats who have done more than Assistant Democratic Leader Clyburn to mentor young members of Congress and make sure that Democrats win elections.

“When former congressman George Henry White, the last African-American congressman to leave Congress before the Jim Crow Era, left office in 1901, he said in his famous farewell address, ‘This is perhaps the Negroes’ temporary farewell to the American Congress, but let me say, Phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again.’

“Next Congress, the CBC will have 55 members, including two who will be in top leadership positions and five who will chair full House committees – former congressman George Henry White was right, and the Phoenix has risen.”

Continue on to BlackPrWire.com to read the complete article.

Wilfred DeFour, 100-year-old Tuskegee Airman, dies

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Wilfred DeFour

Wilfred DeFour, who served with the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, was found dead Saturday in New York. He was 100.

New York police said officers responded to a 911 call to a residence in Harlem and found a man identified as DeFour unconscious and unresponsive. There were no obvious signs of trauma, police said, and the medical examiner will determine the cause of death.

DeFour attended a ceremony last month for the renaming of a Harlem post office in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen, CNN affiliate WABC reported. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators in the US service corps. They trained at the Tuskegee Army Airfield in Macon County, Alabama.

“I regret so many of my comrades are no longer here with us,” DeFour said, according to WABC. “It will mean there’s recognition for Tuskegee Airmen and that’s very important.”

The group was generally said to include pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff who went through a US Army Air Corps training program to bring African-Americans into the war effort, according to Tuskegee Airmen Inc., a group devoted to the history of the airmen.

DeFour was an aircraft technician during World War II, WABC said. After the war, he worked for the US Postal Service for 33 years.

Continue on to CNN to read the complete article.

Dr. Olivia Hooker, One Of The Last Survivors Of The Tulsa Race Riots, Dies At 103

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Hooker was the first Black woman to enlist in the U.S Coast Guard.

Dr. Olivia Hooker, one of the last survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots, has passed away at 103 years old. Hooker was also the first Black woman to join the U.S. Coast Guard in 1945.

The former professor and psychologist received her undergraduate degree from Ohio State University where she became a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority and advocated for women serving in the Navy. Hooker earned a master’s degree from the Teacher’s College of Columbia University and became an elementary school teacher.

Years later, the educator tried to enlist for the Navy. She was rejected because she was Black. Three years after the Coast Guard created a reserve unit for women called the Spars, short for the Latin motto Semper Paratus meaning “always ready,” Hooker was successfully admitted.

She became the first African-American to enroll and earned the distinction as the first Black female Coast Guard. The program disbanded in 1946, but she left ranking as a second class petty officer and won a Good Conduct Award.

The organization shared a tweet to express their condolences to her family.

In 1961, Hooker received her Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Rochester which propelled her work as a psychology professor at Fordham University.

Several years ago she was invited to the White House where she was honored for her achievements by former President Barack Obama.

“She has been a professor and mentor to her students, a passionate advocate for Americans with disabilities, a psychologist counseling young children, a caregiver at the height of the AIDS epidemic, a tireless voice for justice and equality,” he stated.

Continue onto Blavity to read the complete article.

19 Black Women Just Became Judges In Texas After Winning In The Midterm Elections

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While many Democrats were disappointed with Beto O’Rourke’s loss, the state saw a small wave sweep through on the local level, including these 19 black women judges.

A group of 19 black women made history Tuesday when they all won elections to become judges in one Texas county during the midterm elections.

With a population of more than 4 million people, Harris County is the largest county in Texas and the third largest county in the US. The county effectively turned blue, with all 38 district judges elected being Democrats, including the 19 black women who won.

Harris County also elected Democrat Lina Hidalgo, who is an immigrant and just 27 years old, to be their county judge over incumbent Ed Emmett, a Republican who has held the position for more than a decade.

The 19 black women who won on Tuesday are Sandra Peake, Judge Ramona Franklin, Judge Maria Jackson, Germaine Tanner, Angela Graves-Harrington, Cassandra Holleman, Tonya Jones, Dedra Davis, LaShawn Williams, Latosha Lewis Payne, Linda Dunson, Toria Finch, Erica Hughes, Lucia Bates, Ronnisha Bowman, Michelle Moore, Sharon Burney, Shannon Baldwin, and Lori Chambers Gray.

Continue onto Buzzfeed News to read the complete article.

Ethiopia selects Sahle-Work Zewde as its first female president

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Sahle-Work Zewde

Sahle-Work Zewde made history Thursday by becoming the first female head of state in modern Ethiopia. The experienced diplomat was elected unanimously by Ethiopia’s Federal Parliamentary Assembly and becomes the only African female head of state currently — serving the continent’s second-most populous country, to boot.

In her first speech to Parliament, the new president laid out her plans to unite the country and to continue fighting for women’s rights. “The absence of peace victimizes firstly women, so during my tenure, I will emphasize women’s roles in ensuring peace and the dividends of peace for women,” Sahle-Work said, Al Jazeera reports.

“Reaching one of the highest offices in Ethiopian government isn’t the first glass ceiling that Sahle-Work has shattered. In fact, she has an extensive résumé in international diplomacy. Sahle-Work became the first woman appointed to be the special representative of the U.N. secretary-general to the African Union. She has previously acted as an ambassador for Ethiopia in several countries. Before ascending to the presidency, she was working as the U.N. director-general in Kenya.

Continue on to Yahoonews to read the complete article

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