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Elizabeth Denison Forth

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(1780s–1866)

Described by the Lewis and Clark website as "one of the nineteenth century's most remarkable and unlikely philanthropists," Elizabeth Denison Forth (1780s–1866) was the first black landowner in America. She was born as a slave, but after making a trip to Canada she managed to gain her freedom. When she returned to the United States she worked for a good family who gave her hints on how to invest her money by putting it into stocks and real estate. By the end of her life she had accrued a considerable fortune and several pieces of real estate, and she left a portion of her fortune to help build a church for people of all races to attend.

 

Born A Slave

Nicknamed Lisette, Forth was born Elizabeth Denison in Macomb County in the 1780s or 1790s—the records are unclear. She was born into slavery to slave parents Peter and Hannah Denison. She grew up in Macomb County in Michigan, on the Huron River in Saint Clair. Forth's father worked the land and moved to produce up and down the river while her mother served in the household. Forth was the second of six children, and as she grew up, she played with her brothers and sisters and the white and Native American children that also frequented the land. She never learned to read or write, but she was bright and was said to catch on to ideas very quickly and to have learned the Indian languages. She was even able to serve as a translator between the Indians and others who could not understand them. When she was old enough, Forth helped her mother around the house gardening, cooking, and taking care of the silver and fine dishes.

 

The Denisons' owner, William Tucker, died in March of 1805, and at that time, the family thought they would all be gaining their freedom. However, in his will, Tucker granted the Denison parents their freedom only upon Mrs. Tucker's death. And worst of all, he had given the children to his brother to remain as enslaved people. Even though Congress had already passed the Northwest Ordinance to prohibit slavery in the new territory—that part of the United States modern-day Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin—the Ordinance applied only to new, not existing, enslaved people. There was no recourse for the Denisons to protest, so they remained enslaved; the parents stayed with Mrs. Tucker while all the children were forced to go work for Mr. Tucker's brother.

Ran Away to Canada

After Mrs. Tucker died in 1806, Forth's parents were freed. These two elder Denisons took their first jobs as free citizens of the United States of America, working for the Detroit-based lawyer Elijah Brush. Brush was a good man, and he helped the Denisons sue for custody of their children. However, when the verdict came back from the Michigan Territorial Supreme Court, it was not positive. The court had ruled that all children would remain slaves for the rest of their lives except for the youngest children, who would be freed when he turned 25 because he had been born after the Ordinance took effect. The decision gave the family no option to appeal, but Forth and her siblings refused to give up hope. They felt that with many other similar court cases sweeping the land, they would be freed from their forced servitude one day.

 

In 1807, tired of waiting and being forced to serve others, Forth and her siblings decided to take things into their own hands, and they escaped across the Detroit River into Windsor, Canada.

A short while later, all the enslaved people in Michigan were freed unconditionally. Forth returned to Detroit sometime around 1812 as a free woman. Upon her return, she took a free employee working in the Solomon Sibley household in Detroit. She had an excellent relationship with her employers, and it is thought that she began investing her money in land and property because of them. She kept a careful record of all her financial transactions, something else that she may have been encouraged to do by her employers. Although she could not read, she was very good at numbers and used that skill to aid her financial situation.

 

Began Amassing Stocks and Real Estate

She soon amassed a great deal of wealth mainly through investments in stock and real estate, and before long, she was looking for other ways to invest her money. Finally, after years of investing in stocks and buildings, on April 21, 1825, Forth bought 48.5 acres of land in Pontiac, Michigan. She purchased the land from Pontiac's founder, Stephen Mack, who was the head and founder of the Pontiac Company. This single transaction gave her a spot in history, making her the first black property owner in the United States. She purchased the property as an investment, leasing it to one of her brothers. She sold the property in 1837 for $930. Part of what was once Forth's property became the Oak Hill Cemetery, and there was still, in the early twenty-first century, a marker stating that Forth had once owned the property.

 

On September 25, 1827, Forth was married to Scipio Forth. Her marriage was relatively short-lived, as her husband died sometime around 1830. After her husband's death, she began working full-time for the John Biddle family in 1831. She became close to the Biddles and worked for the family for 30 years. She kept saving her money and investing it in whatever caught her fancy. She bought an interest in the steamboat "Michigan," which was a popular dinner cruise boat at the time. She even acquired some shares in Farmers and Mechanics' Bank, one of the most successful banks in the Detroit area in the 1800s. Both investments were profitable. In 1837 Forth decided to buy another plot of land in Detroit.

 

Moved with Biddle Family to Paris

Records are lacking about where Forth was for a short period between 1849 and 1854. It is thought that she might have moved to Philadelphia along with the Biddle family, but there is no confirmation of this. However, it is known that as of 1854, Forth was living in downtown Detroit in her own home. She was not there long when the Biddles contacted her and asked if she would go with them to Paris to take care of Mrs. Biddle, who was sick and needed constant care.

 

She gladly took the Biddles up on their offer and ended up moving with them to Paris in the fall of 1854. Forth enjoyed her time in Paris, and her skill with languages proved to be quite helpful, as she was soon proficient in French. She not only took care of Mrs. Biddle but was also able to explore the great city, a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the ex-slave. But despite the city's glamour, she found herself longing to move back home. She returned in 1856. She lived out the last ten years of her life as a free woman living in her own home in Detroit. She died alone at home on August 7, 1866. She laid to rest at Detroit's Elmwood Cemetery.

 

Forth Left a Legacy Behind Her

Just before her death, one of the big questions in Forth's later life was whom to leave her money and property to, as she had amassed a large number of stocks and other investments over her lifetime. In the end, she gave a large amount of money to the Saint James Protestant Episcopal Church and ended up leaving about $1,500 for a chapel to be constructed where blacks and whites, poor and rich, could worship together. The chapel, initially funded by Forth, was completed in 1868. In 1958 another building was built with a hallway attaching it to the older chapel. The doors leading into it are dedicated to the memory and benevolence of Elizabeth Denison Forth. The young woman born into slavery left a grand legacy behind for all to enjoy.

 

Books

Notable Black American Women, Book 2, Gale Research, 1996.

Online

"Elizabeth Denison Forth Home Site," Michigan Markers, http://www.michmarkers.com/pages/L1860.htm (January 2, 2007).

 

"Historic Sites: Elizabeth Denison Forth," Woodward Avenue Heritage Sites, http://www.woodwardavenue.us/heritage/sites/view/?viewType=location&location;=Pontiac&id=84 (January 2, 2007).

 

"What Else Happened," Lewis and Clark,

 http://www.lewisandclarkandwhatelse.com/lewis_and_clark_what_else/2005/06/index.html (January 2, 2007).   

Submitted by:

Minister Mary Syles

Otis Frank Boykin

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(1920-1982)

The inventor Otis Frank Boykin, known for inventing the WIRE PRECISION RESISTOR, was born on August 29, 1920, in Dallas, Texas.

 

Boykin's mother Sarah Boykin worked as a maid before dying in1921 before Boykin first birthday. Boykin father Walter Boykin, work as a carpenter and later became a minister.

 

In1934 Boykin entered Booker T.Wasington High School in Dallas Texas, later graduating  in1938 as valedictorian of his class. Following Hight Scool Boykin began college at Frisk University in Nashville Tennessee, simultaneously working at an aerospace laboratory in Nashville as a laboratory assistant testing automatic controls for air crafts. After graduating from Frisk in 1941, Boykin began working as a lab assistance for Majestic Radio and TV Corporation, in Chicago, Illinois, eventually rising to the rank of supervisor.

 

In 1944, Boykin began working for the P. J. Nilsen Research Laboratory. Then, in 1946, Boykin started graduate studies at Illinois Inistute of Technology but dropped out within a year because his family could no longer financially assist Boykin with his tuition.

 

Beginning  in1946 he briefly ran his own company, Boykin-Fruth Inc.and began working on various  inventions. Otis Boykin earned his first patent in 1959. He developed the WIRE PRECISION RESISTOR, which enables manufacturers to accurately designate a Value of resistance for an individual piece of wire in electronics equipment.

 

Two years later, in 1961, Boykin earned a patent. Improved Version of this concept, an inexpensive and easily producible electrical resistor model with the  ability to withstand extreme acceleration and shock and great temperature changes without changes or breakage of fine resistance wire for other detrimental effects. Boykin invention significantly reduce the cast of production of hundreds of electronic devices. While makeing them much more reliable than previously possible the transistor
radio was one of many divides affected by his work. Other applications of Boykin invention included guided missiles, televisions, and IBM computers.

 

Additionally, Boykin device would enable the development of the controls unit for the artificial heart pace maker, device created to produce electrical shocks to the heart to maintain a healthy heart rate.

 

Boykin created the electrical capacitor in 1965 and electrical resistance capacitor in 1967 as well as a number of consumers products ranging from burglar-proof cash registers to a chemical air filter.

 

In all, Boykin patented 26 electronics divices over his career.

Submitted by:

Elaine Cooks

Congressman John Conyers Jr.

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John James Conyers Jr. was an American politician of the Democratic Party who served as a U.S. Representative for Michigan from 1965 to 2017. The districts he represented always included part of western Detroit.

John James Conyers Jr. (May 16, 1929 – October 27, 2019) was an American politician of the Democratic Party who served as a U.S. Representative for Michigan from 1965 to 2017. The districts he represented always included part of western Detroit. During his final three terms, his district included many of Detroit's western suburbs, as well as a large portion of the Downriver area.

 

Conyers served more than fifty years in Congress, becoming the sixth-longest serving member of Congress in U.S. history; he was the longest-serving African American member of Congress. In addition, Conyers was the Dean of the House of Representatives. By the end of his last term, he was the last remaining member of Congress who had served since the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.

After serving in the Korean War, Conyers became active in the civil rights movement. He also served as an aide to Congressman John Dingell before winning the election to the House in 1964. He co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969 and established a reputation as one of the most liberal members of Congress. Conyers joined the Congressional Progressive Caucus after it was founded in 1991. Conyers supported the creation of a single-payer healthcare system and sponsored the United States National Health Care Act. He also sponsored a bill to establish Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday. Conyers ran for Mayor of Detroit in 1989 and 1993, but he was defeated in the primary each time.

 

Conyers served as the ranking Democratic member on the House Committee on the Judiciary from 1995 to 2007 and again from 2011 to 2017. He served as chairman of that committee from 2007 to 2011 and as Chairman of the House Oversight Committee from 1989 to 1995. In the wake of allegations that he had sexually harassed female staff members and secretly used taxpayer money to settle a harassment claim, Conyers announced his resignation from Congress on December 5, 2017.

 

Conyers was born and raised in Detroit, the son of Lucille Janice (Simpson) and John James Conyers, a labor leader. Among his siblings was younger brother William Conyers. After graduating from Northwestern High School, Conyers served in the Michigan National Guard from 1948 to 1950; the U.S. Army from 1950 to 1954; and the U.S. Army Reserves from 1954 to 1957. Conyers served for a year in Korea during the Korean War as an officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and was awarded combat and merit citations.

 

After his active military service, Conyers pursued a college education. He earned both his B.A. (1957) and LL.B. (1958) degrees from Wayne State University. After he was admitted to the bar, he worked on the staff of Congressman John Dingell. He also served as counsel to several Detroit-area labor union locals. From 1961 to 1963, he was a referee for Michigan's workmen's compensation department.

 

Conyers became one of the leaders of the civil rights movement. He was present in Selma, Alabama, on October 7, 1963, for the voter registration drive known as Freedom Day.

In total, Conyers won re-election twenty-five times and was serving in his twenty-sixth term. He was the Dean of the House as a longest-serving current member, the third longest-serving member of the House in history, and the sixth longest-serving member of Congress in history. He was the second-longest serving member of either House of Congress in Michigan's history, trailing only his former boss, Dingell. He was also the last member of the large Democratic freshman class of 1964 who was still serving in the House.

 

In May 2014, Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett determined that Conyers had not submitted enough valid nominating petition signatures to appear on the August 2014 Primary Election ballot. Two of his workers circulating petitions were not themselves registered voters at the time, which was required under Michigan law. But on May 23, Federal District Judge Matthew Leitman issued an injunction placing Conyers back on the ballot, ruling that the requirement that circulators be registered voters was similar to an Ohio law which had been found unconstitutional in 2008 by a Federal Appeals Court. The Michigan Secretary of State's office subsequently announced they would not appeal the ruling.

 

Summary/Fun Facts about Congressman John Conyers Jr.:

  • He served as Chair of the House Oversight Committee from January  3, 1989, to January 3, 1995

  • He was also affiliated with the Democratic Socialists of America.

  • In 2007 Congressman John Conyers Jr. was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP.

  • Born: May 16, 1929, Highland Park, MI

  • Passed October 27, 2019, Detroit, MI (age 90)

  • Spouse Monica Conyers

  • 2 Children, John Conyers III and Carl Conyers

  • Party affiliation Democratic Party

  • He was the 6th longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. History (53 years)

  • He was the 44th Dean of the United States House of Representatives in office January 3, 2015 – December 5, 2017

  • He was a member of the United States House of Representatives from Michigan January 3, 1965- December 5, 2017

  • He was a Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee from January 3, 2011 – December 5, 2017

  • He served as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee from January 3, 2007- January 3, 2011 (the first African-American legislator to hold this distinction)

Many have said Congressman John Conyers Jr. fought for Civil Rights and Justice against vicious forces. And he should be remembered as a defender of black America and Detroit. He was recognized as a gentleman and realized his strength came from using his voice to argue points, not personalities.

Congressman John Conyers Jr. will be remembered as one of our most notable distinguished gentlemen.

Submitted by:

Brian Blosser

Gladys Mae West

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The Hidden Figure making Black History in STEM

 

This is a great ending to our Black History Month Celebration and a good transition to March which is the History Month for Women.

 

Gladys Mae West is a renowned mathematician from Virginia who contributed greatly to the GPS Technology.  The Global Positioning System (GPS) accurately identifies your location anywhere on earth and is used to give you good directions to where you want to go.  GPS is used in your social media when you check-in, your care navigation, google maps and etc.  Now, imagine the work and calculations it took to program a system to accurately map the coordinates of the entire earth.  Gladys collected and analyzed satellite data of the earth's surface until she eventually created a detailed accurate model and helped develop the technology that resulted in the GPS.  She literally was another Hidden Figure and Black History Maker in STEM.

Gladys was born in 1930 in Sutherland, VA and her family owned a small farm.  She worked on the family farm but desired something more for her life than farming.  She worked hard in high school to earn a scholarship to college.  She excelled in every subject and was convinced to give the male-dominated field of math a try.  

 

In 1956, she was the second black woman hired by the Naval Proving Ground in Virginia where she worked for over 40 years.

 

In 2018, she was inducted into the Space and Missiles Pioneers Hall of Fame.

 

She did let her age or a stroke stop her achievements at the age of 70  when she completed her PHD.

 

Thank you for lining me in honoring her today and I hope a part of her legacy has inspired you.

 

Sources for this report:  www.10news.com  and forbes.com

Sincerely grateful,

Patrice D. Henderson

(1929-2019)