CAFNR CAFNR Celebrates Black History Month Learn more about notable African Americans in the fields of agriculture, food and natural resources Feb. 1, 2021 Written by Genevieve Howard print mail June Bacon-Bercey (1928-2019), Meteorologist. Bacon-Bercey was said to be the first African American female meteorologist to forecast weather on television. In 1972, the American Meteorological Society awarded Ms. Bacon-Bercey its Seal of Approval – given for excellence in on-air meteorology. She later worked for the National Weather Service. At UCLA, she was advised to take home economics instead. “I got a D in home economics and an A in thermodynamics.” Henry Blair (1807-1860), Inventor. The second African American to be issued a U.S. patent, Blair was a successful farmer who patented two inventions: a corn planter and a cotton planter. Both of his inventions greatly increased efficiency on the farm by limiting labor and time. Ralph E. Brock (1881-1959), Forester. Ralph Brock is believed to be the first African American trained in the field of forestry in the United States. He graduated from the Howard School in Wilmington, Del. Brock’s interest in plants was said to be fostered by his high school principal. While employed at the former Mont Alto Reserve, now Michaux State Forest, Brock’s passion for forestry grew, and he became a forestry student at the school. Upon graduation in 1911, Brock established a nursery on campus, using compost for soil health. He then went into the private sector of forestry. Robert Bullard, Environmentalist, Author. He is often described as the father of environmental justice. Dr. Bullard is currently a Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy at Texas Southern University. He is an award-winning author of 18 books addressing topics including sustainable development, environmental racism, urban land use, industrial facility siting, community reinvestment, housing, transportation, climate justice, disasters, emergency response, community resilience, smart growth, and regional equity. Preston D. Cole, Natural Resources Executive, CAFNR Alum. Preston Cole is the Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. He earned a bachelor’s degree in forest management in 1987 from the University of Missouri – the first African American to graduate from the degree program. Cole was also the first African American forester hired by the Missouri Department of Conservation where he worked as the St. Louis Parks Superintendent from 1989 to 1991. He then moved to Milwaukee as a forestry operations supervisor. Cole has served on the National Arbor Day Foundation Board of Trustees since 1994 and was elected board chairman from 2000 to 2002. Marie Maynard Daly (1921-2003), Biochemist. Marie Maynard Daly was the first Black woman in the United States to earn a PhD in chemistry. Dr. Daly discovered the link between high cholesterol and clogged arteries – leading to a better understanding of how heart attacks are caused. She became a champion for diversity, working to increase the representation of minorities in science. Frederick McKinley Jones (1893-1961), Inventor. Jones was the inventor of one of the most important inventions to modern agriculture: the refrigerated truck. He patented his refrigeration system in 1940 and became the co-owner of the company Thermo King, through which he sold his invention. Because of his invention, fresh seasonal produce could be enjoyed throughout the entire year. Robert Jones, Crop Scientist, University Administrator, CAFNR Alum. Robert Jones serves as the Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – the first African American scholar appointed as Urbana chancellor since the office was created in 1967. Jones earned his PhD in CAFNR in 1978. Upon completion of his PhD, he moved to Minnesota, where he was hired as an assistant professor of crop physiology at the University of Minnesota. Before accepting his current role at the University of Illinois, he served as President at the University of Albany, State University of New York. Throughout his career, he has contributed not only to the science of maize kernels, but also the development of new scientists, as well as educational opportunities for under-privileged students. Henry Kirklin (1858-1938), Gardener, Entrepreneur, Educator. Henry Kirklin was unofficially the first African American to teach students at the University of Missouri. He was nationally-acclaimed for his fruit and vegetable growing techniques, and consulted by many, including Booker T. Washington. Though born into slavery and never attending school, he became one of Columbia’s most successful businessmen. Lila Miller, Veterinarian, Author. Dr. Miller graduated from Cornell University with a DVM and BS in Animal Science – one of the first African American women to graduate from Cornell Vet Med. She was the first veterinarian appointed to human medicine’s National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) in 2011. Dr. Miller has more than 25 years of experience working in the field of shelter medicine. She is the co-editor of the textbook Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians and Staff and a contributing author of the veterinary forensics publication, Recognizing and Reporting Animal Abuse, a Veterinarian’s Guide. John W. Mitchell (1886-1955), Extension Agent. Mitchell was an Extension agent who became one of the most well-known Cooperative Extension agents in the nation. He first served three North Carolina counties travelling by horse or bicycle. He was known for his financial and innovative leadership for the state’s African American farmers. In 1953, the USDA Secretary appointed him to the specially-created post of National Extension Leader on the staff of the Division of the Department of Cooperative Extension Work, the highest rank ever given at the time to a person of color within the national Extension organization. Felix Ponder (1946-2012), Soil Scientist, Researcher. Felix Ponder, Jr. was a research soil scientist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station in Columbia, Mo. His career began at Jefferson National Forest in Virginia in 1971 where he worked as a soil scientist for four years. Ponder’s office was located at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., for more than 18 years, where Ponder served three years as project leader of the second US Forest Service research unit in the nation to be located on the campus of an historically Black college or university. His work with students was instrumental in drawing people into natural resource careers. John C. Robinson, Biologist. Robinson is a biologist and birder who has birded in almost every state and led birding trips in Central and South Africa. Wherever he goes, he says he often hears the same comment: “I’ve never met a Black bird watcher before!” As an African American environmentalist, a significant part of his advocacy work is focused on making minorities, particularly youth and young adults, more engaged with the environment through bird watching, a topic that he wrote about in his 2008 book Birding for Everyone: Encouraging People of Color to Become Birdwatchers. Gladys Royal (1926-2002), Biochemist. Royal is one of a small number of early African American biochemists. Part of one of the few African American husband-and-wife teams in science, she worked with George C. Royal on research supported by the United States Atomic Energy Commission. She later worked for many years as principal biochemist at the Cooperative State Research Service of the USDA. Royal was also active in the civil rights movement in Greensboro, N.C. James Marshall Shepherd, Atmospheric Scientist, Professor. Shepherd, Georgia Athletic Association Distinguished Professor of Geography and Atmospheric Sciences, is an internationally-recognized expert in weather and climate. Shepherd serves as Director of the University of Georgia’s Atmospheric Sciences Program. Dr. Shepherd is also frequently asked to advise key leaders at NASA, the White House, Congress, Department of Defense, and officials from foreign countries. Shepherd received his BS, MS and PhD in physical meteorology from Florida State University – the first African American to receive a PhD from the Florida State University Department of Meteorology, one of the nation’s oldest and most well respected. He is only the second African American to preside over the American Meteorological Society. Robert Lloyd Smith (1861-2942), Legislator, Farmer Co-op Founder. Smith was an educator, businessman and Republican politician who served two terms in the Texas Legislature. Born a free Black in Charleston, S.C., in 1861, he moved to Texas about 1880. In 1890, he founded the Farmer’s Home Improvement Society, a farmer’s co-op the purpose of which was to help poor Black people lift themselves out of poverty. He was first elected to the legislature in 1895 and served until 1899. He was appointed deputy United States marshal for the Eastern District of Texas by President Theodore Roosevelt and served from 1902 to 1909. Charles Henry Turner (1867-1923), Animal Behavior Scientist, Inventor. Charles Henry Turner was the first African American to earn his MS and PhD from the University of Cincinnati and the University of Chicago, respectively. His work with hymenoptera (how bees and ants navigate and communicate) pioneered ground-breaking research on honey bee memory, color-vision ability, communication and navigation at O’Fallon Park, in St. Louis, Missouri. Debbye Turner, Veterinarian, Broadcast Journalist. Dr. Turner graduated from the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine in May 1991. She earned a bachelor of science in agriculture in May 1986 from Arkansas State University. Turner was crowned Miss America in 1990. From 2001 to 2016, Turner was a feature correspondent then a “resident veterinarian” and a fill-in anchor for CBS News. She has also appeared on Pet Planet, the Early Show, Saturday Early Show, Show Me St. Louis, and she has hosted The Gentle Doctor. Wamwari Waichungo, Regulator Executive, Food Scientist, CAFNR Alum. Growing up in Kenya, Waichungo dreamed of a career in food or agriculture in the United States. She received her MS and PhD degrees in Food Science from Mizzou in 1994 and 1996, respectively. After graduate school, she returned to Kenya and was approached about working for Coca-Cola. She climbed the company ranks and became a top executive. In 2015, she returned to campus as a CAFNR Executive-in-Residence and was a Column Award recipient in 2018 – the college’s highest honor. Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), Educator. Washington founded Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama (now known as Tuskegee University), which grew immensely and focused on training African Americans in agricultural pursuits. He hired George Washington Carver to run the school’s agricultural department in 1896. George Washington Carver (1864-1943), Agricultural Scientist, Inventor. Carver, an agricultural scientist, inventor and educator at Tuskegee University, revitalized southern soil that had been stripped by cotton, a nitrogen-depleting crop, by developing a crop rotation method that alternated the cotton with legumes like peanuts that fix nitrogen and other edible crops such as corn. Carver also promoted the use of compost. Warren Washington, Atmospheric Scientist. Washington became one of the first developers of groundbreaking atmospheric computer models in the early 1960s. He was the second African American to earn a doctorate degree in atmospheric sciences or meteorology and the first African American to serve as president of the American Meteorological Society (AMS). Washington has engaged in research for over 50 years, giving advice, testimony and lectures on global climate change. Dr. Washington’s crowning honor came in 2010 when he was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama, the nation’s highest science award. Booker T. Whatley (1915-2005), Sustainability Advocate. The book by Whatley, an Alabama horticulturist, author, and Tuskegee University professor, “How To Make $100,000 Farming 25 Acres” (1987), shares his 10 commandments of farming that assist in minimizing costs, limiting waste and maximizing income. In addition, one of his 10 commandments was the idea that, today, is called CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) where clients pay a fee for farm-fresh produce.