Pontiac Black History

About Black History Month

blackhisotrydisplayIn 1915, Carter G. Woodson, a historian keenly interested in education, founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. It was through this organization that he began pressing for a “Negro History Week” as a mechanism for exploring the contributions of Black Americans. This dream became reality in 1926. Woodson chose the second week of February because two persons he felt had dramatically affected the lives of Black Americans were born during that month: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It would be much later, in 1976, when the now-renamed Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History would succeed in promoting this week into Black History Month.

Come See What's Happening in Pontiac

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Black History Month Videos

Click here to visit our Black History Month Video Page, profiling a different person in history.
Date Event

waysideMotor Cities National Area Wayside Signs

Historic signs telling the story of  places, events and people that helped shape Pontiac. These signs can be found throughout the city. This sign about Rosa Parks is just outside City Hall.

Year-Round Displays in City Hall
  city hall black history displayHayes Jones Gold Medal Display
Pontiac Public Library Mr. Hill Harper
Saturday, February 10, 2024 12-2 p.m.
60 East Pike, Pontiac, MI 48342

Mr. Hill Harper 1 (003) - CopyRenowned Author and Keynote Speaker will host the annual essay contest for Black History Month
Click here to download the flyer

The City of Pontiac has a rich legacy of having a strong pioneering African American community. There are many black firsts in Pontiac dating back to the 1800’s.

During this month of February, you can read fresh facts that are specific to our community. These facts will be reflective of the various “Black Firsts” in our community in reverse chronological order, starting with 1969.

Click on one of the images below to read details about each  of these historic black figures and events.
pontiacblackhistory2024 BHM Elizabeth 2024 BHM Jonas Gray Poster
BHM Cleveland Summit Poster BHM Henry Wallace poster 1a BLM Eleanor Mickens Poster
  BHM Damani Philips  
Click here for Pontiac Black History 1820 to 1968

Today's Pontiac Black Firsts Fresh Facts 1969 - Today
1969 - Elaine Eason received accreditation as a Medical Records Technician in Oakland County; and was hired as the first black supervisor of Medical Records at Pontiac General Hospital (currently known as North Oakland Medical Center).
1971 – The Fall of this year brought busing to integrate the Pontiac School District.
1971 – Anne D. Russell was appointed as the first black Assistant Principal at Pontiac Central High School.
1971 – R. Clayton Jones was appointed as the first black Executive Director of the Pontiac Housing Commissions.
1972 – Charlie Harrison Jr., Democrat, was elected as the first black State Representative for District 62.
1972 – Christopher Brown became the first black 50th District Court Judge. Judge Brown went on to be elected to six consecutive terms before retiring.
1974 – Gloria Hardiman Carlisle was elected as he first black President of the Pontiac School District Board
1975 – Anna Baker Lane was appointed as first black Acting Pontiac Librarian.
1977 – Dr. Odell Nails was appointed as the first black Superintendent of  the Pontiac School District.
1978 – James Wright was named the first black President of Pontiac General Hospital (also known as North Oakland Medical Center).
1979 – Willie Redmond became first black Personnel Director of Clinton Valley.
1980 – Ernest Russell appointed as first black Principal of Pontiac Central High School.
1981 – Larry Lewis was hired as the first black City of Pontiac Planner.
1981 – Wilma Ray Bledsoe was named as the first black Vice President of Oakland University.
1981 – R. Clayton Jones was elected as the first black National President of the National Association of Housing.
1982 – Thomas Gracey appointed as the first black Deputy Pontiac Police Chief.
1982 – Clayton R. Jones became the first black Director of the Pontiac Stadium Authority.
1982 – Wallace E. Holland was elected as Pontiac’s first black full-time Mayor.
1983 – Elaine Eason became the first black Director of Medical Records at Clinton Valley Center.
1983 - Wilvem Charli Yarbro not only became the first black female firefighter, but also the first female firefighter
1986 – Dr. Joanne Holbert was appointed as the first black female Deputy Mayor.
1988 – Dr. LaBarbara Gragg was hired as the first black female Superintendent of the Pontiac School District.
1990 – Joy Holland was appointed as the first black Director of Clinton Valley.
1990 – Gloria Hardiman Carlisle was the first black elected to Oakland County Intermediate School Board.
1991 – Henry Wallace was appointed as the first black Captain of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department.
1994 – Jeffrey Hawkins was appointed as the first black Fire Chief.
1994 – Sandra Combs Birdiett became the first black Metro-Editor at the Oakland Press.
1994 – Kathy Kinnard was elected as the first black female to City Council in District One.
1996 – Jeremy Thomas Rawls, 12 years old, served as Student Ambassador to Hawaii.
1996 – Sandra C. Birdiett became the first black member of the Oakland Press Editorial Board
1997 – Alexandria Riley at the age of 11 years old served as Youth Anchor on Cable Channel 44, Inside Pontiac.
1998 – Pamela Chambers became the first black female Lieutenant of the Pontiac Police Department.
1999 – Pamela Chambers became the first black female Captain of the Pontiac Police Department.
2000 - George Phifer became the first black male Lieutenant of the Pontiac Police Department
2001 - George Phifer became the first black male Captain of the Pontiac Police Department
2002– Captain George Phifer became the first black Director for City of Pontiac Homeland Security.
2003– Captain Pamela Chambers became the first female black Director for City of Pontiac Homeland Security.
2003 – Claude Billy Williams was named as the first black Director of the Pontiac Public Library.
2003 – Cynthia Thomas-Walker became not only the first black female 50th District Court Judge, but also the first female 50th District Court Judge.
2014 - Deirdre Waterman became not only the first black female Mayor of the City of Pontiac, but also the first female Mayor of Pontiac.
2014 - Patrice Waterman became not only the first black female President of the City Council, but also the first female President of the City Council
2018 - Deirdre Waterman became the first Pontiac Mayor to be re-elected to consecutive terms.

Other Black History Facts

On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama became the first African American President of the United States of America http://www.biography.com/people/barack-obama-12782369

On January 20, 2021, Kamala Harris became not only the first female Vice President of the United States, but also the first African American and Asian American to be come Vice President. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamala_Harris

Marian Anderson was the first African American soloist in 1955 at the Metropolitan Opera in NYC. http://www.biography.com/people/marian-anderson-9184422

Harriet Tubman escaped slavery and led hundreds of other slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad. She also became a spy for the Union Army http://www.biography.com/people/harriet-tubman-9511430

William Christopher Handy became known as the "Father of the Blues". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._C._Handy

Phillis Wheatley is known as the first published African American poet.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phillis_Wheatley

Booker T. Washington was an African American educator who believed in uplifting yourself through education and economic advancement. http://www.bartleby.com/1004/

Lewis H. Latimer was the only African American member of Thomas A. Edison's team of scientists. He helped pave the way in the development of the electric light bulb. https://www.biography.com/people/lewis-howard-latimer-9374422

Andrew J. Beard invented the rotary engine on July 5, 1892. http://blackinventor.com/andrew-beard/

Granville T. Woods Woods invented more than a dozen devices to improve electric railway cars and much more for controlling the flow of electricity. https://www.biography.com/people/granville-t-woods-9536481

Guion S. Bluford, Jr. was the first African American in space. http://www.biography.com/people/guion-s-bluford-213031

Frederick D. Gregory was the first African American space shuttle commander.

Bernard A. Harris, Jr. was the first African American to walk in space.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_A._Harris_Jr.

Elijah McCoy invented an automatic oiling device  that allowed machines to be lubricated while they were still in use. Some say that this is where the expression "the real McCoy" originated. http://www.biography.com/people/elijah-mccoy-9391300

Garrett Augustus Morgan invented the automatic traffic signal, as well as, the gas mask used by soldiers in World War I and by firemen in the early 1900's. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garrett_A._Morgan

Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress. http://www.biography.com/people/shirley-chisholm-9247015#personal-life-and-legacy

Maya Angelou is a world famous poet, historian, author, singer and civil rights activist. She is both a Grammy and Horatio Alger award winner. http://www.biography.com/people/maya-angelou-9185388

Sojourner Truth was a true force in the abolitionist movement, as well as, a preacher. She added the women's rights movement to her cause in 1859. http://www.biography.com/people/sojourner-truth-9511284

George Washington Carver discovered 300 uses for peanuts and hundreds more uses for soybeans, pecans and sweet potatoes. https://www.biography.com/people/george-washington-carver-9240299

Jan Ernst Matzeliger invented a machine to make shoes that lasted in 1883. http://www.biography.com/people/jan-matzeliger-21317107#invention-of-the-lasting-machine

Crispus Attucks is remembered as one of the first men to lose his life for the cause of American independence at the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part2/2p24.html