By Ernie Brown
Notable feats in history
I will dedicate a portion of this column to some little-known black history achievements that probably don’t get a whole lot of attention.
But before I do, I must point out that this month calls attention to the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of one of the stalwarts of modern black history, Malcolm X.
Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little in 1925 in Omaha, Neb., was killed Feb. 21, 1965, in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom. He rose to national prominence as a spokesman and leader for the Nation of Islam, better known as the Black Muslims.
Now, you may love Malcolm or hate him, but his presence and legacy were just as important to the civil rights movement as that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
He spoke of black self-pride and empowerment, and he preached a doctrine of separatism from white America at a time when many others advocated a nonaggressive, nonviolent approach to integration.
Malcolm said at that time, “Concerning nonviolence, it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.”
I think every American should read Alex Haley’s book “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” It shows how a former criminal overcame tremendous odds, rose to a position of prominence and power, and had the strength to remake himself and his beliefs when he learned the real truth about his Islamic faith.
His words still ring true today: “A race of people is like an individual man; until it uses its own talent, takes pride in its own history, expresses its own culture, affirms its own selfhood, it can never fulfill itself.”
And now, here are the black history factoids I promised:
• Thomas L. Jennings, who died in 1895, was the first black American to receive a patent, in 1821. His patent was for the dry-cleaning process. He used the money earned from his patent to purchase relatives out of slavery and support abolitionist causes.
• Judy W. Reed was the first black woman to receive a patent, in 1884 for a hand-operated machine used to knead and roll dough.
• Paul Cuffee, a black philanthropist, ship captain and devout Quaker, founded the first integrated school in Massachusetts in 1797.
• Joycelyn Elders was the first black woman to serve as U.S. Surgeon General. Her term lasted 15 months from 1993 to 1994.
• Alexia Irene Canada became the first black neurosurgeon in the United States in 1984.
• Alaine Locke a writer, philosopher and intellectual, was the first black Rhodes Scholar. He died in 1954.
• Oberlin College in Ohio was the first American college or university to admit blacks.
• Maurice Ashley, born in 1966, is the first and only black American to be crowned International Grand Master of chess, in 1999. He opened the Harlem Chess Center that same year and continues to coach young black children.
• Willie O’Ree, a Canadian, was the first black man to play professional hockey in the National Hockey League. He made his pro debut Jan. 18, 1958, with the Boston Bruins. He played professional hockey for 21 years.