This is the twenty-eighth entry in the series Honoring Black History.
Chances are you’ve never heard the name Angie Turner King, and that’s because, like so many black women, she invested her time and energy in other people. In King’s case, students.
Born in 1905 in West Virginia coal country, Angie Turner King was the granddaughter of slaves. She lost her parents when she was young and went to live with a light-skinned grandmother who verbally abused and degraded her because of her dark skin. She later moved in with her grandfather who, while illiterate himself, insisted she go to school. She graduated form high school in 1919 at the age of 14.
Not knowing anything about scholarships, King cited tables and did other odd jobs to afford college. She graduated cum laude from West Virginia State in 1927 with a degree in mathematics and chemistry. After graduating, she began teaching, which was one of the few career options for women—especially women of color—in STEM at the time. While teaching high school, she enrolled in Cornell University and worked toward her Masters Degree, which she earned in 1931, over the summers.
After Cornell, she accepted a position at West Virginia State College, teaching at the laboratory school. She focused on getting the labs in shape “so students would know what a real laboratory looks like.” During World War II, she taught chemistry to soldiers as part of the Army Specialized Training Program at the college.
King went on to earn her PhD, even after getting married and birthing five daughters. She continued teaching and mentoring young minds. One of those minds was Katherine Johnson, the NASA scientist who cited her as a major influence: “a wonderful teacher – bright, caring, and very rigorous.” Another was entomologist and civil rights advocate Margaret Collins
To the best of our knowledge, Angie Turner King only every published two works (her dissertations). She didn’t invent some groundbreaking technology we can’t live without. She didn’t cure a horrible disease. She didn’t do one specific thing we should recognize her for. She did many things. She taught. She mentored. She nurtured. She put her energy into her students and gave them the tools they needed to be successful. She put others before herself and that’s damn admirable.
For this reason, I think Angie Turner King is the perfect person on whom to close out this series. So many incredibly important figures have been wiped from history by people who find them threatening. We need to share their stories. And even more never stepped into the limelight (or searchlight) to begin with. We need to discover them and share them too. We need to acknowledge and thank them enough for their activism, their sacrifice, and their commitment to improving this world of ours. We need to remember their names.
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