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African American Heritage in Science, Engineering and Medicine in Los Angeles

African American, Heritage, Science, Engineering, Medicine, Los Angeles

Eleven African Americans with ties to Los Angeles County broke racial barriers in the fields of science, engineering and medicine.

Dr. Monroe Alpheus Majors

Dr. Monroe Alpheus Majors, 1893

Dr. Monroe Majors, 1893. Image from the New York Public Library.

Born 1864 - Died 1960

Occupation: Physician, Teacher, Civil Rights Activist

Born: Waco, Texas

Education: Attended West Texas College, Tillotson Normal and Collegiate Institute, and Central Tennessee College. Graduated from Meharry Medical College, 1886

Professional Experience: After practicing in Texas, moved to Los Angeles in 1888, where he lectured at Los Angeles Medical College. Edited the Los Angeles Western News, advocating the appointment of African-Americans to civic positions. Returned to Texas in 1890.

Notable: First African American to pass the California Board of Medical Examination. First African American physician in Los Angeles, 1888.

Dr. Ruth Janetta Temple

Dr. Ruth Janetta Temple, 1918

Ruth Temple, 1918. Image from The Negro trail blazers of California by Delilah L. Beasley, 1919, courtesy of Oviatt Library, CSUN.

Born 1892 - Died 1994

Occupation: Physician, Public Health Pioneer

Born: Natchez, Mississippi

Education: Bachelors, Medicine, Loma Linda University, 1918; Masters, Public Health, Yale University, 1941.

Professional Experience: At the time, persons with medical training could practice medicine with an undergraduate degree in medicine. Her medical internship was at Los Angeles City Health Department, specializing in obstetrics and gynecology. With husband Otis Banks, established Temple Health Institute as a free clinic and health education center on Central Avenue in Southeast Los Angeles.

Notable: First African American woman to graduate from Loma Linda University and the first African American woman to practice medicine in California, 1918. Taking a teaching position at White Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles, she became the first African American in the U.S. to teach medicine to white medical students. Later, her health clinic in Southeast Los Angeles became a model for health clinics across the country.

Loma Linda College of Medical Evangelism Class, 1918

1918 class of the College of Medical Evangelists (present-day Loma Linda University). Ruth Temple is at far right. Image courtesy of Loma Linda University Archives.

Grant D. Venerable

Grant D. Venerable, 1932

Grant D. Venerable, 1932. Image from Caltech Yearbook, 1932 , courtesy of Three Questions: The Journey of One Black Mathematician by Edray Herber Goins, 2018.

Born 1905 - Died 1986

Occupation: Engineer, Businessman

Born: Jackson, Missouri

Education: Bachelors, Engineering, California Institute of Technology, 1932

Professional Experience: Worked as a mining engineer. Employed at Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company (then, the only black-owned business west of the Mississippi River). Operated a Los Angeles hotel and purchased the George R. Healey Manufacturing Company in Montebello, an eraser manufacturing firm. Son, Grant II, went on to also graduate from Caltech as a chemist.

Notable: First African American to graduate from California Institute of Technology, 1932.

Dr. Geraldine B. Branch

Dr. Geraldine Branch, 1936

Dr. Geraldine Branch, medical school graduation portrait, 1936. Image courtesy of New York Medical College.

Born 1908 - Died 2016

Occupation: Physician, Obstetrician-Gynecologist

Born: New York, New York

Education: Bachelors, Chemistry-Physics, Hunter College, 1932; MD, New York Medical College, 1936; Masters, Public Health, University of California, Los Angeles, 1962.

Professional Experience: Gynecologist and obstetrician in private practice, Los Angeles County public health officer, professor at the schools of medicine at the University of Southern California and the Chares R. Drew University of Medicine and Science. Following the 1965 Watts riots, helped to establish the Watts Health Center and worked to advance health care and education in Watts.

Notable: One of the first African American women physicians with a Doctor of Medicine degree (MD) to practice in Los Angeles (physician Ruth Janetta Temple, who earlier practiced medicine in L.A., had a bachelor's degree in medicine – see above). Helped to modernize and better organize Los Angeles County’s public health system. Founded Watts Health Center in 1965. Helped to establish the Chares R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, 1966.

James E. LuValle

James LuValle

James LuValle, 1936. Image from the Associated Press.

Born 1912 - Died 1993

Occupation: Chemist, Athlete

Born: San Antonio, Texas

Education: John H. Francis Polytenic High School; Bachelors, Chemistry, 1936, and Masters, Chemistry & Physics, University of California, Los Angeles, 1937; PhD, Chemistry & Mathematics, California Institute of Technology (under guidance from Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling), 1940.

Professional Experience: Professor at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. Research scientist at Eastman Kodak Laboratories and research director at Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corp., SMC Corp., and Smth Corona. Researcher at the U.S. Government Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II. Laboratory Administrator at Stanford University chemistry department.

Notable: First African American graduate student at California Institute of Technology, 1940. Won a bronze medal in track and field (400 meters) at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. Lu Valle Commons and Jimmy's Coffee House on the UCLA campus is named for LuValle.

Dr. Hughenna L. Gauntlett

Dr. Hughenna Guantlett

Dr. Hughenna Guantlett. Image courtesy of Santos Family.

Born 1915 - Died 2010

Occupation: Physician, Surgeon

Born: Sequirres, Costa Rica

Education: Pre-Medical Study, Northern Caribbean University in Mandeville, Jamaica; Bachelors, Atlantic Union College; MD, Loma Linda University, 1950; Interned at Syndenham Hospital, New York City; Surgical Internship at Loma Linda University

Professional Experience: Private practitioner in Watts in partnership with an esteemed African American woman physician, Dr. Kathleen Jones-King; Served as Chief of the Department of Surgery at California Hospital Medical Center, 1980.

Notable: First African American woman certified by the American Board of Surgeons, 1968. Both sons, Alfred and Arthur Santos, became physicians, one also a surgeon.

John B. Slaughter

John B. Slaughter

John B. Slaughter. Image courtesy of USC Pressroom.

Born 1934

Occupation: Electrical Engineer, Academic Administrator

Born: Topeka, Kansas

Education: Bachelors, Electrical Engineering, Kansas State University, 1956; Masters, Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles, 1961; PhD, Engineering Sciences, University of California, San Diego, 1971.

Professional Experience: Director of Applied Physics Laboratory of University of Washington, in 1975.Director of National Science Foundation, 1980. Chancellor of University of Maryland, College Park, 1982. President Occidental College; Melbo Professor of Leadership in Education at University of Southern California, 1999.

Notable: First African American Director of the National Science Foundation, 1980. First African American President of Occidental College in Los Angeles, 1988.

Dr. Patricia Bath

Patricia Bath

Dr. Patricia Bath, 19xx. Image courtesy of U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Born 1942 - Died 2019

Occupation: Physician, Opthamologist, Inventor

Born: New York, New York

Education: Graduated from high school in two years; Bachelors, Chemistry & Physics, Hunter College, 1964; MD, Howard University, 1968.

Professional Experience: During a fellowship at Columbia University, discovered African Americans were twice as likely to suffer blindness and eight times more likely to develop glaucoma. Developed a community ophthalmology system at Harlem Hospital’s Eye Clinic to increase eye care for lower income patients. After retirement in 1993, advocated for telemedicine.

Notable: First African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology, 1973. First female faculty member in Department of Ophthalmology at UCLA's Jules Stein Eye Institute, 1975. Co-founded American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness in Los Angeles, 1976. Appointed Chair of the Ophthalmology Residency Program at Charles R. Drew University-UCLA, 1983 (first woman in the U.S. appointed to chair an opthamology department). Invented the Laserphaco Probe, 1986 (patented in 1988), the first medical patent given to an African American female physician. The device helped to restore and improve vision for millions of cataract patients. Went on to receive four more U.S. patents and three international patents. Daughter, Eraka Bath, also a physician, is a neuropsychiatrist and professor at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.

Dr. Mae C. Jemison

Mae Jemison Suits Up for Space, 1992

Dr. Mae Jemison suits up for her mission aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor, 1992. Image courtesy of NASA.

Born 1956

Occupation: Physician, Engineer, Astronaut, Businesswoman

Born: Decatur, Alabama

Education: Bachelors, Chemical Engineering & African American Studies, Stanford University, 1977; MD, Cornell University, 1981.

Professional Experience: During medical school, conducted medical study in Cuba and worked at a refuge camp in Thailand. Worked with Flying Doctors in East Africa. Interned at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. Entered private practice in the Los Angeles area. Joined the Peace Corps, serving as medical officer for Peace Corps volunteers in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Worked with Center for Disease Control (CDC). Upon returning to Los Angeles, reentered private practice and did graduate study in engineering. Applied to and accepted into the NASA astronaut training program, 1987, among first group of astronaut trainees accepted after the 1986 Challenger disaster. Assigned to the crew of Mission STS-47 aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor as a Science Mission Specialist, a new NASA role focusing on scientific experiments. The mission flew September 12-20, 1992, logging 190 hours, 30 minutes and 23 seconds in space. After that one mission, left NASA and to start a consulting company, The Jemison Group Inc. Also founded the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence (named in honor of her mother). The foundation, among other projects, held youth science camps in the U.S., South Africa, Switzerland, and Tunisia. Also founded the Jemison Institute for Advancing Technology in Developing Countries. Later founded another business, BioSentient Corp. In 2012, through the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, won the bid for 100 Year Starship, a joint DARPA/NASA project. The project works to encourage and promote research and technology directed at interstellar travel within 100 years. The organization formed around the project, maintaining the name 100 Year Starship, continues with Jemison as the organization’s principal.

Notable: Entered Stanford University at age 16. First African American woman and woman of African heritage in space (had long been highly interested in space travel and a fan of the fictional character Uhura in the TV Series Star Trek). Years later, she actually went on to become the first real astronaut to have appeared in the Star Trek TV franchise, playing the role of Lieutenant Palmer in the episode “Second Chances” in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Ánimo Mae Jemison Charter Middle School in Los Angeles is named in Jemison’s honor.

Mae Jemison, Space, Astronaut, Space Shuttle, 1992

Mae Jemison in space inside the Spacelab Japan module, 1992. Image courtesy of National Archives.

Joanne Berger-Sweeney

Joanne Berger-Sweeney, 2012

Joanne Berger-Sweeney, 2012. Image from AFS-USA Intercultural Programs (CC by Creative Commons 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

Born 1958

Occupation: Neurobiologist, Academic Administrator

Born: Los Angeles, California

Education: Bachelors, Psychobiology, Wellesley College, 1979; Masters, Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, 1981; PhD, Neuro-toxicology, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, 1989. Post-doctoral work at the National Institute of Health (INSERM) in Paris, France.

Professional Experience: Professor, 1991, Associate Dean, 2004, and Director of the Neuroscience Program at Wellesley College; Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University in Massachusetts, 2010; President of Trinity College in Connecticut, 2014

Notable: First African American woman to become a full professor at Wellesley College. First African American and first woman to become president of Trinity College.

John O. Dabiri

John Dabiri, MacArthur Fellowship, 2010

John Dabiri, 2010. Image courtesy of MacArthur Fellowship.

Born 1980

Occupation: Biophysicist, Engineer, Researcher, College Instructor, Businessman

Born: Toledo, Ohio

Education: Bachelors, Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, Princeton, 2001; Masters, Aeronautics, 2003, and PhD, Bioengineering, 2005, both at California Institute of Technology.

Professional Experience: Professor at California Institute of Technology; Centennial Chair Professor California Institute of Technology; Prominent researcher of hydrodynamics and biodynamics of jellyfish and other aquatic animals; Designed a vertical-axis wind farm, adapted from schooling fish. Established California Institute of Technology Field Laboratory for Optimized Wind Energy (FLOWE). Founded company, Scalable Wind Solutions, providing software for optimizing the placement of wind turbines.

Notable: Offered tenured teaching position at California Institute of Technology at age 29. Named one of Popular Science magazine's "Brilliant 10" scientists in 2008. Awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship (commonly called a “Genius Grant”), 2010.