150 Years of Noteworthy Hamptonians

by Kevin Lamár Peterman 

For 150 years, Black Americans have called Hampton University their home by the sea. A home that has stood as beacon of light, providing hope to an imperfect world through its graduates year after year. Its legacy is rich and it reaches far beyond the soil it was built upon shortly after American emancipation. Hampton University was founded as Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute on April 1, 1868 by Samuel Chapman Armstrong. The school which was later referred to as Hampton Normal school and then Hampton Institute began with a simple purpose following the Civil War; “The thing to be done was clear: to train selected Negro youth who should go out and teach and lead their people first by example, by getting land and homes; to give them not a dollar that they could earn for themselves; to teach respect for labor, to replace stupid drudgery with skilled hands, and in this way to build up an industrial system for the sake not only of self-support and intelligent labor, but also for the sake of character.” Known in its early years for the development of vocational training and practical skills, Hampton has served as a national model for the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities. It is indeed the “standard of excellence” offering a quality education that will last for a lifetime. Under the leadership of Dr. William R. Harvey, who has served as its president for 40 years, Hampton’s growth led to it becoming a full university in 1983. Today, Hampton University has nearly 5,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students enrolled, and offers more than 50 degree programs. Hampton alumni are a shining testament to the institutions rich legacy of producing capable leaders and innovative thinkers. As the university continues to soar to higher heights, its alumni continue to change the world through their respective careers and professions. This week’s MSI Line Up highlights 6 noteworthy Hamptonians who have made an indelible impact on our nation and the world.

1) Booker T. Washington

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Booker T. Washington has been regarded as Hampton University’s most distinguished alumnus. Amidst the grueling conditions of slavery, Washington was born in 1856 in Hale’s Ford, Virginia. Following emancipation, Washington walked nearly 500 miles to attend the Hampton Normal School and graduated with the class of 1875. Upon graduation, Washington returned to Hampton as an instructor and later became one of the nation’s most prominent African American intellectual leaders. In 1881, Washington was sent to Alabama to assist with the founding the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. Under his leadership, Tuskegee became one of the leading institutions of higher learning for African Americans. He also later became a White House advisor to both Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Washington died in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1915.

2) Wanda Sykes

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Wanda Sykes is an award winning writer, actress and comedian who has dominated the entertainment industry for nearly three decades. She was born on March 7, 1964 in Portsmouth, Virginia. Sykes was raised in Washington, DC and later matriculated at Hampton University where she earned a degree in Marketing in 1986. There, she also became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.She has bee seen in her as Daphne on “Blackish,” writer and performer on “The Chris Rock Show,” and as a regular on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” “Wanda has made Hampton University proud with her stellar career,” said Hampton University President Dr. William R. Harvey.

3) Alberta Williams King

download-2.jpgAlberta Williams King was born on September 23, 1904 in Atlanta, Georgia. She attended high school at Spelman Seminary and obtained a teaching certificate at the Hampton  in 1924. She later married the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., and together led the Ebenezer Baptist Church of Atlanta, GA where her father had been the pastor previously. From their union, came three children; Christine King Farris, Alfred Daniel Williams King, and famed civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Mrs. King was also a talented musician who served as the choir organist and director at Ebenezer and was fatally killed in 1974 while playing during a Sunday morning service.

4) Edna Greene Medford, Ph.D.

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Edna Greene Medford, Ph.D. is one of the nation’s most respected and sought after public intellectuals. Dr. Medford received her undergraduate degree from Hampton where she met college sweetheart, Thomas Medford, a practicing legal attorney.  She later studied at the University of Illinois (Urbana), and the University of Maryland, where she received her Ph.D. in United States history. Medford is a trained historian who has transformed the field with her scholarship that centers on on Jacksonian America, Civil War and Reconstruction, nineteenth-century history, and African American history. She is the author of Lincoln and Emancipation  and countless book chapters, reviews and scholarly articles. Dr. Medford is currently a professor at Howard University in the department of History where she chaired the department for many years. Dr. Medford was invited as the resident historian by Vice- President Joe Biden and the United States Congress to speak at the the dedication of the Frederick Douglass statue at the US Capitol.

5) Septima Poinsette Clark

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Septima Poinsette Clark was born on May 3, 1898 in Charleston, South Carolina. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Benedict College in 1942 and a master’s degree from Hampton in 1946. She later became a leading civil rights activist who was also widely known for her work in the field of education during the Jim Crow era. Clark  taught hundreds of students throughout the south and created  informal literacy classes for adults. She late became a leader within the  Charleston NAACP, the YWCA and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Clark organized students and community members in an effort to convince the city of Charleston to hire more teachers and principals in Charleston. Clark also trained teachers for citizenship schools and assisted in marches and protests alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who insisted that she be present so that he could acknowledge her when he received his Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

6) Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, Ph.D.

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Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, Ph.D. is a  dynamic leader and trailblazer in American higher education. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1950. Hrabowski graduated from Hampton with a degree in mathematics, attaining highest honors. He later received his M.A.  and Ph.D. in higher education administration/statistics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Hrabowski currently serves as President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and has help this position since 1992. Under his leadership, UMBC has become a model university and one of the nation’s leading sources of African-American Ph.D.s in Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics (STEM).   He recently released book entitled, Holding Fast to Dreams: Empowering Youth from the Civil Rights Crusade to STEM Achievement. Hrabowski was named one of America’s 10 Best College Presidents by TIME magazine in 2009, and one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2012.

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