Vernon L. Farmer, professor of education, and Evelyn Shepherd-Wynn, assistant professor of English, recently published a multivolume book about the experiences, struggles and successes of historical and contemporary Black American pioneers.
In Voices of Historical and Contemporary Black American Pioneers, the life stories and career histories of 250 historical figures are told through biographies; 150 contemporary figures voice, through autobiographies and original interviews, what they have faced and overcome in a racist and often-hostile and violent environment to make their mark in the world.
Farmer said that he envisioned the research project in 2004 and now that a four-volume book has been published, “We hope that our readers will gain a better sense of what it must have been like to travel the paths of Black American pioneers, gain a sense of urgency about their own careers and the contributions they hope to make in strengthening the Black community and the world.”
The four volumes are Medicine and Science; Law and Government; Aviation, Armed Forces, and Astronautics; and Education, Social Science and Humanities.
Benjamin Carson, Sr., a preeminent pediatric neurosurgeon, penned the foreword; Guion Bluford, Sr., first Black American astronaut to fly in space, penned the afterword. Congressmen John Conyers and Charles Rangel wrote tributes to Rosa Parks and the Tuskegee Airmen.
When asked how they were able to get so many renowned scholars to participate, they said they were persistent; once professors heard about their research, they wanted to be a part of it.
Wynn explained that the criteria for selecting the contributors were simple but stringent; they had to have made a unique contribution that advanced their field and made a positive impact on society.
Farmer added, “We invited a cadre of contemporary Black Americans from different career fields to tell about their accomplishments as they struggled with violence, racism, and discrimination in America.”
“Professionals embraced our work and wanted to share about how they were able to be successful in their career field,” said Wynn.
A few of the contributors are Alexa Canady, first Black American woman neurosurgeon; Abdulalim Abdullah Shabazz, world renowned mathematician at GSU; Carol Moseley Braun, first Black American woman elected to the U.S. Senate; Donna Brazile, first Black American to direct a major Presidential Campaign; Damon J. Keith, ruled that President Nixon could not use wiretapping without a warrant which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court; Arthur L. Burnett, Sr., senior judge and national executive director of the African American Drug Policy Coalition; Joshua Bennett Johnson, first Black American woman judge on the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Charles Bolden, Jr., first Black American NASA Administrator; Russel Honore, retired Army lieutenant general that commanded the Joint Task Force after Hurricane Katrina; Stephanie Wilson, second Black American woman astronaut to fly into space. Belle Wheelan, first Black American president of the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
In addition, Farmer and Wynn conducted original interviews with Tuskegee Airmen; a few include Robert Ashby, Roscoe Brown Jr., Thurston Gaines, Asa Herring, and Luke Weathers.
They interviewed astronauts Guion Bluford, Jr., Bernard Harris, Jr., Frederick Gregory, Robert Curbeam, Jr., Yvonne Cagle, Joan Higginbotham, Robert Satcher, Winston Scott, and Stephanie Wilson. These are just a few of the contemporary pioneers who contributed to this book.
Farmer and Wynn began their journey in 2005 to a number of libraries, archives, museums, and exhibits to research many of the historical pioneers.
“We began our research at GSU’s A. C. Lewis Memorial Library. We spent hours examining a rich collection of sources in Mary Watson Hymon Afro-American Center,” said Farmer.
Wynn noted, “In our efforts to tie together threads of history and culture, we researched places that helped crystallize the life stories and career histories of Black pioneers.”
A few of the sites they visited included Texas Southern University’s Robert James Terry Library, the Thurgood Marshall Law School Library at Texas Southern University, and the Buffalo Soldiers Museum in Houston. Howard University Law School Library in Washington, D. C.; Tuskegee University’s Ford Motor Company Library, the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site and Museum at Moton Field; the Rosa Parks Museum at Troy University, the Civil Rights Memorial Center, and the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery.
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham; the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, the Ebenezer Baptist Church, and the Freedom Hall in Atlanta. They also visited the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.
After their research was completed in 2011, they spent months finalizing the introductions to each volume and editing the contributors’ chapters. Meanwhile, the manuscript underwent a rigorous peer review.
Farmer and Wynn invite readers to travel with them to learn more about the lives and careers of Black American pioneers in the multivolume book.
For information regarding Voices of Historical and Contemporary Black American Pioneers, contact ABC-CLIO, the publisher via online: www.abc-clio.com; by phone: 800-368-6868; by fax: 805-685-9685; or by e-mail: CustomerSErvice@abc-clio.com. The 1,408 page set is listed for $257.00.