Honoring Pioneers this Black History Month

Honoring Pioneers this Black History Month

February is Black History Month in the United States, a time to celebrate and honor generations of African American men and women who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society. At HHHunt, we believe it’s how you live that matters, and we are highlighting five individuals who improved the lives of others and made a difference in the states where we develop, build and serve.

Dr. Matilda Evans, South Carolina: Dr. Evans wasthe first African American woman licensed to practice medicine in South Carolina. From an early age, Dr. Evans knew she wanted to become a physician. Her grandmother was a lay midwife and her uncle an herbalist –both exposed her to the world of service in healthcare. She graduated from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and opened her medical practice in Columbia, South Carolina in 1897. In 1901, she opened the Taylor Lane Hospital and Training School for Nurses and later St. Luke’s Hospital and Training School for Nurses. A public health advocate, Dr. Evans pushed for community medical education and improved health care for black children. She found many children with undiagnosed diseases and as a result of her work, routine health examinations of children in Columbia’s public schools were implemented. Dr. Evans founded the Columbia Clinic Association in 1931, the city’s first free clinic for black children. Later, she founded the Negro Health Association of South Carolina to provide health education to minority families throughout the state. She served as president of the Palmetto State Medical Society in 1922 and regional vice-president of the National Medical Association.

Oliver Nestus Freeman, North Carolina: Oliver Freeman was one of the first African American homebuilders in the United States. Born the son of a former slave, he was educated at the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial School in Alabama where he majored in industrial arts. As a young man, he taught at Tuskegee and later at a school in Wilson, North Carolina. Freeman married Willie May Hendley, a woman he met at Tuskegee and they became friends with two other well-known African Americans with Tuskegee connections, Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. Later, he assisted in building houses for soldiers returning from World War II. His distinctive stonework can be seen in the foundations, chimneys, columns and other architectural features throughout Wilson, especially in the city’s bungalows. The City of Wilson honored Freeman’s legacy by naming an affordable housing community after him. Freeman Place offers energy efficient, single-family homes perfectly priced for first-time home buyers.

Maggie Walker, Virginia: Maggie Walker was the first African American woman to charter a bank and serve as its president in the United States. Born in Richmond, Virginia as Maggie Lena Mitchell, the daughter of a former slave and a Confederate soldier, Maggie was raised by her mother, Elizabeth and stepfather William Mitchell.  She attended the local First African Baptist Church near her home and the newly formed Richmond Public Schools. By age 14, she joined the local Independent Order of St. Luke, a humanitarian group that ministered to the sick and aged and encouraged self-help and integrity. In 1901, she called upon the members of the Order of St. Luke to charter a bank designed to help members of the community, and in 1903 the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank was approved by Virginia’s Corporation Commission. She served as the bank’s president and later agreed to serve as chairman of the board of directors when the bank merged with two others to become The Consolidated Bank and Trust Company, which grew to serve generations of Richmonders as an African-American owned institution.  She received an honorary master’s degree from Virginia Union University in 1925 and was inducted into the U.S. Business Junior Achievement Hall of Fame in 2001.

Booker T. Washington, Virginia: Born into slavery, Booker T. Washington put himself through school after the Civil War ended. He later went on to found the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama in 1881, which was focused on educating African Americans on a wide array of subjects including agriculture. He led the institute for more than 30 years. Washington’s continued work on education helped him to enlist moral and financial support of many philanthropists, including Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller.  By the time of Booker’s death, Tuskegee’s endowment was close to $2 million.  Washington founded the National Negro Business League (NNBL) in 1900 to inspire the “commercial, agricultural, educational and industrial advancement” of African Americans. He wrote 14 books and his autobiography, Up from Slavery, first published in 1901, is still widely read today.  Affiliated with the Republican Party, Washington was often asked for political advice by presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.

Robert Lee Curbeam, Jr., Maryland: Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Captain Curbeam earned his Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the US Naval Academy, a Master of Science in Aeronautical Engineering and a master’s degree in Astronautical Engineering both from the Naval Postgraduate School. In 1984, he started Naval Flight Officer training and went on to a distinguished career in the U.S. Navy until he was selected to join the space flight program by NASA in 1995. Capt. Curbeam went through one year of training with NASA and participated in his first flight in 1997. He later went on two additional space flights and broke the record in 2006 for the most spacewalks during a single flight. Curbeam served as spacecraft communicator (CAPCOM), relaying all voice communication between Mission Control and crews aboard the Space Shuttle and International Space Shuttle. He also served as Deputy Associate Administrator for Safety and Mission Assurance during the spring of 2002. While at NASA, Capt. Curbeam participated in three space flights and has logged over 901 hours in space including over 45 hours during three spacewalks.