Taking the race to space: Mae C. Jemison

Black folk cannot learn. Black folk cannot study science. Black folk sure as (you know what) cannot be astronauts.

The statements above could not be further from the truth. Dr. Mae C. Jemison, the first black woman to enter space, is more than ample proof of that.

She was born in Dothan, Ala. on October 17, 1956. Her parents, Charlie and Dorothy Jemison, were a carpenter and a teacher.

Concerned about the educational well-being of their children, they moved to Chicago to find a better school system.

Mae Jemison absorbed the new atmosphere like fresh air. Jemison loved books and much of her time as a child was spent in the local libraries.

Her favorite subject was science, particularly astronomy. From an early age, she valued academics and the pattern continued throughout her life.

When racial and social attitudes stared her in the face as a child of the Civil Rights Movement, Mae Jemison stared right back and graduated from Morgan Park High School as an honor student.

She entered Stanford University on a National Achievement Scholarship in 1973.

Jemison excelled college she did not excel in just one area. She surpassed the standard and received her bachelor’s degrees in two majors, chemical engineering and African-American studies; and she did not stop there.

While in school, she threw herself into dance and theatre productions and served as president of the Black Student Union. Afterwards she pursued and obtained a medical degree from Cornell University in 1981.

Her phenomenal background in scholarly excellence has afforded her to take part in several opportunities abroad. She studied in Kenya, Cuba and Thailand.

She served as a Peace Corps medical officer for Liberia and Sierra Leone. She also worked as a general practitioner at the Los Angeles County Medical Center.

In 1985, Mae Jemison made a career change that would forever change the course of history.

One of 15 candidates chosen from over 2,000 applicants, she was admitted into NASA’s astronaut training program. And on September 12, 1992 she flew into space with six others aboard the space shuttle Endeavour.

She became the first African-American woman ever admitted to the NASA training program and the first to travel to space. On her eight-day mission, she conducted an array of scientific experiments. Her historic flight forever changed the face of astrologic achievement.

She has received the Essence Science and Technology Award, the Ebony Black Achievement Award and a Montgomery Fellowship from Dartmouth College.

Jemison is a member of the American Medical Association, the American Chemical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and served on the board of directors of the World Sickle Cell Foundation.

She is also an advisory committee member of the American Express Geography Competition and an honorary board member of the Center for the Prevention of Childhood Malnutrition.

She established the Jemison Group, a company that seeks to research, develop, and market advanced technologies.

Black people can learn. Black people can study anything. Black people can be anything. Mae Jemison is a living testimony.

Back in Black is a brought to you through a partnership of the 2005-2006 Florida A&M University Royal Court and The Famuan. The Royal Court provided all information used in this profile.