Famous Hampton University Alumni:
Black History Icons
Black History Icons
Everyone knows that Booker T. Washington is considered Hampton University’s most illustrious alumnus. After graduating from his “Home by the Sea” in 1875, Washington founded the Tuskegee Institute and became a national leader in the fight against racism. In the spirit of Black History Month, here are some other profound Hampton alumni who went on to do great things for the advancement of black people.
Robert S. Abbot (Class of 1896)
Robert S. Abbott, born from former slaves, studied the printing trade at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute from 1892 to 1896. He received his law degree in 1899 from Kent College of Law, but was told he was “too dark” to practice law. After failed attempts of starting law offices in Gary, Indiana, Topeka, Kansas, and Chicago; Abbot founded The Chicago Defender in 1905. By 1929, the Defender was a national newspaper with a circulation of over 250,000 copies. One of the nations largest and most influential Black newspapers, it was one of only two that was published on a daily basis out of 350 Black-owned newspapers in 1966. The paper fought for social justice, political and economic equality, and was credited for encouraging The Great Migration of many southern blacks to the North during WWI. Abbott was one of the first self-made millionaires of African descent in America. His rise to greatness started at Hampton.
Alberta Williams King (Class of 1924)
Alberta Williams King, mother of Martin Luther King Jr., received her teaching certificate in 1924 from then named Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. As a married woman she was not allowed to work as a teacher by the local school board. Nonetheless, King founded the Ebenezer Baptist Church choir and served as church organist for nearly 40 years. She also was active in the YMCA, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). She is most notably known as the mother of civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr.
St. Clair Drake (Class of 1931)
St. Clair Drake began his career in anthropology after studying the subject at Hampton Institute from 1927-1931. While at Hampton, he served as president of the student body and editor of the Hampton Script. In 1931 he began teaching anthropology at Dillard University. Drake split his time between teaching and interviewing lower class blacks in Natchez, Mississippi for the Deep South research project. Realizing he needed more training, Drake enrolled the anthropology graduate program at the University of Chicago. He received his PhD from the school in 1953. In 1969 Drake accepted a long-standing invitation to become professor of sociology and anthropology and director of African and Afro-American Studies at Stanford University in California. He is best known for publishing Black Folk Here and There (2 vols. 1987-1990). His work is a detailed account of white racism in world history and prejudices against black people.
John H. Sengstacke (Class of 1934)
John H. Sengstacke is the nephew of Robert S. Abbott above, and was his successor at The Chicago Defender newspaper. Abbott actually financed Sengstacke’s education at Hampton Institute, which he graduated from in 1934. Upon his graduation, Sengstacke became Vice President and General Manager of the Robert S. Abbott Publishing Company, and served as president after his uncle’s death. He also founded the National Newspaper Association in 1940, which was established to unify African-American newspaper publishers. He was instrumental in community service projects in the South Side of Chicago, mainly due to his influence with the federal government and several presidents. Sengstacke was a savvy business man and community leader, and his education at Hampton was the foundation to his success.
John Biggers started his education at Hampton in 1941 with the intention of becoming a plumber. After taking art classes he realized his passion, and his artwork was even featured in the landmark exhibit Young Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1943. Biggers taught for a year at Pennsylvania State and a summer at Alabama State University before moving to Houston in 1949 to found the art department at the Texas State University for Negroes (which was renamed Texas Southern University in 1951). He taught at TSU for over 30 years where he encouraged his students to look to their own communities and heritage for inspiration. In 1950 Biggers won a contest at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, for his drawing, The Cradle, and the Neiman Marcus Company Prize at the Dallas Museum of Art in 1952 for his drawing, Sleeping Boy. In 1957 John Biggers spent six months traveling to Ghana, Togo, Dahomey (now the Republic of Benin), and Nigeria on a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) fellowship. His trip changed his philosophy on life and art, and inspired him to write his book Ananse: The Web of Life in Africa (1962), which combined drawings with narrative text he had written while in Africa. Biggers art and literature gave African Americans a realistic view on African art and culture. His passions and success in the art world all started at his “Home by the Sea.”
Septima Poinsette Clark (Class of 1945)
Septima Poinsette Clark was a highly educated woman who played a significant role in educating African Americans for full citizenship rights. Clark graduated from the Avery Normal Institute in 1916, studied at Columbia University in New York and with W.E.B Du Bois at Atlanta University in Georgia during summers, received her bachelor’s degree from Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina in 1942, and received her master’s degree from Hampton Institute in 1945. She campaigned alongside Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP for equal pay for black teachers in Columbia, South Carolina. As director of education and teaching in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) which joined other organizations to form the Voter Education Project, Clark helped train teachers for citizenship schools and assisted in increased voter registration among African Americans. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledged her efforts when he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 by insisting she accompany him to Sweden. Clark’s commitment to racial equality through education and citizenship are unique qualities that many Hampton alumni share.
Many great African American leaders, artists, and activists, and business people are products of Hampton University. This school has had a deep influence on Black history and American history. This Black History Month we want to acknowledge the great individuals that have graduate from this school, and also encourage more greatness in the years to come. Happy Black History Month!- Ryan Jordan