Saturday, May 16, 2009

Unsung African American Heroes

J A M E S _ A R M I S T E A D
P a t r i o t _ S p y




Wars are rarely fought without the use of spies and the American Revolution was no exception. Arguably, the most important Revolutionary War spy was a slave named James Armistead.

Born around 1748 in New Kent, Va., Armistead was given permission by his master to join the revolutionary cause. Although many fought as soldiers, blacks, both free and enslaved were being used by the British and the Americans to gain intelligence against each other. Armistead, however, was used by both sides, making him a double-agent.

In 1781, he joined the army and was put in service under the Marquis de Lafayette, who was desperately trying to fight the chaos caused in Virginia by turncoat soldier Benedict Arnold. His forces diminished by British Gen. Charles Cornwallis' troops, Lafayette needed reliable information about enemy movements.

Armistead began his work posing as an escaped slave, entering Arnold's camp as an orderly and guide, then sent what he learned back to Lafayette. He later returned north with Arnold and was posted close enough to Cornwallis' camp to learn further details of British operations without being detected. By also being used as a British spy (who fed them inaccurate data), Armistead was able to travel freely between both sides. One day, he discovered that the British naval fleet was moving 10,000 troops to Yorktown, Va., making it a central post for their operation.

Using the intricate details Armistead provided, Lafayette and a stunned, but relieved George Washington lay siege to the town. Concentrating both American and French forces, a huge blockade was formed, crippling the British military and resulting in their surrender on Oct. 19, 1781.

Rex Ellis, vice president of Colonial Williamsburg's Historic Area, says Armistead's role was critical to the American victory. "If he had not given the information that he gave at the strategic time he did, they would not have had the intelligence to create the blockade that ended the war."

Despite his critical actions, Armistead had to petition the Virginia legislature for manumission. Lafayette assisted him by writing a recommendation for his freedom, which was granted in 1787. In gratitude Armistead adopted Lafayette's surname and lived as a farmer in Virignia until his death in 1830.

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E U N I C E ∙ H U N T O N ∙ C A R T E R





M o b_B u s t e r

The 1920s and 30s were a time when organized crime was an unseen hand playing a significant part in urban life across the country. In no city was that more evident than New York. At the time, law enforcement hadn't made the connection between racketeering and petty crime. Then Eunice Hunton Carter came along.

Born in Atlanta in 1899, to activist parents, Carter became a social worker who practiced in New York and New Jersey for several years before earning a law degree from Fordham University Law School, the first black woman to do so. In 1935, she was appointed by New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia to study situations in Harlem. But soon her street smarts and work as a Women's Court prosecutor with knowledge about prostitution cases, and a theory that the streetwalkers were connected to the mob, got her hired as an assistant district attorney under then-special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey. Her investigative work showed that when prostitutes were arrested, they all seemed to have the same lawyers, bondsmen and alibis, leading her to theorize that prostitution was an organized racket.

As it turns out, the investigation revealed that mob figures were providing these services to the prostitutes in exchange for 50 percent of their take, which brought in millions for the underworld. Dewey ordered raids on 80 brothels, arresting 100 prostitutes. Carter's questioning of several resulted in evidence that led to New York's most powerful mob figure — Charles "Lucky" Luciano, who was not found to be directly connected to the brothels, but gave a non-interference nod to its operation. Essentially this meant he was, in fact, a crime boss.

"This was the beginning of the end for organized crime they way it operated," said Peter Kougasian, an assistant Manhattan district attorney. "It showed that they were not invulnerable and it also represented an end for major political corruption as well." The case tried by the famed "Twenty Against The Underworld," as Dewey called his team, and resulted in a 30 to 50-year sentence, for Luciano, although he was paroled and deported to Italy in 1946.

After her role in what had been the largest organized crime prosecution in U.S. history, Dewey (who was elected New York District Attorney in 1937, appointed Carter head of the D.A.'s Special Sessions Bureau. In 1945, she entered private practice and continued her activities in organizations including the National Council of Negro Women, the United Nations and on the national board of the YWCA, on which she remained until her death in 1970.

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R E B E C C A ∙ L E E ∙ C R U M P L E R
A ∙ M e d i c a l ∙ M i l e s t o n e







Because medical practitioners focus more on their patients than any notoriety, historical figures in medicine are often rendered obscure. Such is the case of Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first African American woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S.

Crumpler was born in 1831 and raised by an aunt who spent much of her time caring for infirm neighbors. The aunt likely influenced her choice to go into the medical profession, especially since medical care for the needs of poor blacks was almost non-existant during the antebellum years.

Between 1852 and 1860, Crumpler worked as a nurse in Charlestown, Mass. However, a wider door had been opened for women physicians across the country, possibly due to heavy demands for medical care of Civil War veterans, leading a new generation of women — including Crumpler — to pursue an M.D., which she earned in 1864 from New England Female Medical College.

"It was a significant achievement at the time because she was in the first generation of women of color to break into medical school, fight racism and sexism," said Manon Parry, curator at the National Library of Medicine's History of Medicine Division. "It was common theme that minority females went in to the profession to provide medical care for underserved communities."

After the war, Crumpler moved to Richmond, Va., where her main focus was on the health needs of freed slaves. In her work with other black doctors, she tended to large groups of the poor and destitute that would have had little access to medical care and a new path was forged for healthcare in underserved communities. Her experience there, and later in Boston, led her to publish her now-renown Book of Medical Discourses In Two Parts, one of the first known medical writings by an African American and an early guidebook on public health.

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P H I L I P ∙ E M E A G W A L I
A ∙ C a l c u l a t i n g ∙ M o v e



It's hard to say who invented the Internet. There were many mathematicians and scientists who contributed to its development; computers were sending signals to each other as early as the 1950s. But the Web owes much of its existence to Philip Emeagwali, a math whiz who came up with the formula for allowing a large number of computers to communicate at once.

Emeagwali was born to a poor family in Akure, Nigeria, in 1954. Despite his brain for math, he had to drop out of school because his family, who had become war refugees, could no longer afford to send him. As a young man, he earned a general education certificate from the University of London and later degrees from George Washington University and the University of Maryland, as well as a doctoral fellowship from the University of Michigan.

At Michigan, he participated in the scientific community's debate on how to simulate the detection of oil reservoirs using a supercomputer. Growing up in an oil-rich nation and understanding how oil is drilled, Emeagwali decided to use this problem as the subject of his doctoral dissertation. Borrowing an idea from a science fiction story about predicting the weather, Emeagwali decided that rather than using 8 expensive supercomputers he would employ thousands of microprocessors to do the computation.

The only step left was to find 8 machines and connect them. (Remember, it was the 80s.) Through research, he found a machine called the Connection Machine at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which had sat unused after scientists had given up on figuring out how to make it simulate nuclear explosions. The machine was designed to run 65,536 interconnected microprocessors. In 1987, he applied for and was given permission to use the machine, and remotely from his Ann Arbor, Michigan, location he set the parameters and ran his program. In addition to correctly computing the amount of oil in the simulated reservoir, the machine was able to perform 3.1 billion calculations per second.

The crux of the discovery was that Emeagwali had programmed each of the microprocessors to talk to six neighboring microprocessors at the same time.

The success of this record-breaking experiment meant that there was now a practical and inexpensive way to use machines like this to speak to each other all over the world. Within a few years, the oil industry had seized upon this idea, then called the Hyperball International Network creating a virtual world wide web of ultrafast digital communication.

The discovery earned him the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers' Gordon Bell Prize in 1989, considered the Nobel Prize of computing, and he was later hailed as one of the fathers of the Internet. Since then, he has won more than 100 prizes for his work and Apple computer has used his microprocessor technology in their Power Mac G4 model. Today he lives in Washington with his wife and son.

"The Internet as we know it today did not cross my mind," Emeagwali told TIME. "I was hypothesizing a planetary-sized supercomputer and, broadly speaking, my focus was on how the present creates the future and how our image of the future inspires the present."



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