Today in Black History, 12/3/2011

·   December 3, 1911 Helen Gray Edmonds, educator, and author, was born in Lawrenceville, Virginia. Edmonds earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Morgan State University in 1933 and her Master of Arts degree in 1938. She earned her Ph.D. in history in 1946 from Ohio State University, becoming the first African American woman to receive that degree in the school’s history. In 1940, she joined the faculty of North Carolina Central University where she worked until her retirement in 1971. She also served as chair of the History Department and dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science. Author of two books and numerous scholarly articles, Edmonds was the first recipient of the Candice Award from the Coalition of 100 Black Women and won the Oliver Max Gardner Award in 1975 from the University of North Carolina for the “greatest contribution to the human race.” Edmonds also served as special emissary in Liberia and as an alternate delegate to the United Nations during the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. She also served as national president of The Links, Incorporated from 1970 to 1974. In 1977, North Carolina Central established the Helen G. Edmonds Graduate Colloquium of History and in 1989 they renamed the social science and history building in her honor. Edmonds died on May 9, 1995.

·   December 3, 1922 Ralph Alexander Gardner, scientist who specialized in the development of hard plastics, was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Gardner earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois School of Chemistry in 1943 and took a research job with the Argonne National Laboratory where he worked on the Manhattan Project which resulted in the development of the atomic bomb. Despite his work on the atomic bomb, Gardner could not find an academic position in his field when he left Argonne in 1947, therefore he worked as a waiter until 1949. In 1949, he became a research chemist and project leader at Standard Oil Company. In 1952, he earned his master’s degree and in 1959 his Ph.D., both in chemistry from Case Western University. He currently holds emeritus status at Cleveland State University.

·   December 3, 1970 Jennifer Josephine Hosten from St. George’s, Grenada became the first black to win the Miss World contest. Hosten was born March 12, 1948 and after winning the contest, she earned her Masters of Arts degree in political science and international relations from Carleton University and served as High Commissioner to Canada from Granada from 1978 to 1981. In 1998, she served as technical adviser on trade to the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States and in 2006 she was appointed national director of the Miss Grenada World Contest. Hosten published her autobiography, “Beyond Miss World,” in 2008.

·   December 3, 2000 Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks, poet and novelist, died. Brooks was born June 7, 1917 in Topeka, Kansas but raised in Chicago, Illinois. She published her first poem in a children’s magazine at 13 and by the time she was 16 she had a portfolio of 75 published poems. Brooks’ first book of poetry, “A Street in Bronzeville,” brought her critical acclaim and she was selected one of Mademoiselle Magazine’s Ten Young Women of the Year. She also won her first Guggenheim Fellowship and became a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her second book of poetry, “Annie Allen,” won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the first given to an African American. In 1962, Brooks began teaching creative writing, which she did at a number of institutions, including Northeastern Illinois University and Columbia University. Her book length poem, “In the Mecca” (1968), was nominated for the National Book Award for Poetry. Also in 1968, Brooks was appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois and in 1985 she was selected the Library of Congress’ Consultant in Poetry (now titled Poet Laureate). Brooks was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1988 and, in 1994, was chosen as the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Jefferson Lecturer, the highest award in the humanities given by the federal government. In 1995, she was presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President William Clinton. Brooks was awarded more than 75 honorary degrees from colleges and universities worldwide and there are a number of schools in Illinois named in her honor. Brooks’ biography, “A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks,” was published in 1990.