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From Struggle to Success: Remarkable Stories of African American Brothers

The Men that Paved the Way for Generations to Come

By Rick Henry Christopher Published 4 months ago Updated 4 months ago 8 min read
Top Story - October 2023
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Not too long ago in the United States African-American citizens had to ride at the back of the bus, drink at segregated water fountains, and weren't allowed to enter a "whites only restaurant." The Fifteenth Amendment added to the US Constitution gave African-Americans the right to vote. The following passage from the Library of Congress states: "Yet states still found ways to circumvent the Constitution and prevent blacks from voting. Poll taxes, literacy tests, fraud and intimidation all turned African Americans away from the polls. Until the Supreme Court struck it down in 1915, many states used the "grandfather clause " to keep descendants of slaves out of elections. The clause said you could not vote unless your grandfather had voted -- an impossibility for most people whose ancestors were slaves."

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law on August 6, 1965, by President Lyndon Johnson. It outlawed the discriminatory voting practices adopted in many southern states after the Civil War, including literacy tests as a prerequisite to voting.

Brave African Americans such as Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr., Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Malcolm X, Sidney Poitier, Nina Mae McKinney, and Josephine Baker paved the way for many to come.

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This feature story honors five sets of African-American brothers that refused to let racial discrimination hold them back and achieved history-making successes.

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The Roberts Brothers

The Roberts Brothers, Micheal and Steven, the sons of Delores Talley Roberts and Victor Roberts, were born in 1948 and 1952 respectively in St. Louis, Missouri. From a young age the brothers were bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. They both cut lawns and delivered newspapers. But they didn't just cut grass or wash cars. They had a "lawn service" and offered a "car spa." They were always a notch above the other kids.

After graduating with a J.D. degree from the St. Louis University School of Law Michael as the St. Louis campaign manager for Jimmy Carter's 1976 Presidential campaign. After Carter won the election Michael was a regular guest at The White House. One year later, Roberts was elected the youngest alderman in St. Louis. His brother, Steven C. Roberts would claim this title two years later.

In 1981 Michael and Steven founded Roberts Broadcasting which was home to 12 television stations and a radio station. In 1982 the brothers ventured into real estate with commercial and residential developments. This led to Roberts Construction Company in 1989.

In 1999, the Roberts Brothers opened the first Sprint PCS-affiliated wireless store in Jefferson City, Missouri. It was the only PCS-affiliated company owned by African Americans.

From here the brothers, believing that success depended on diversifying, they continued expanding their business interests into Movie Production, Cell Phone Towers, Hotels, Restaurants, Shopping Centers, Political Consulting, TV/Radio, and Real Estate/Property. By 2008 the brothers built their empire to more than 1,100 employees and they had become billionaires.

The Knox Brothers

The brothers’ grandfather, Elijah Knox, was born into slavery in North Carolina in the 1820s. Elijah became a skilled carpenter and bought his freedom in 1846. He moved north, to New Bedford, Massachusetts, a long-established African American community which is on the route of the famed Underground Railway. After receiving the highest grade on the New Bedford civil-service exam in 1903, he obtained a post-office position in 1905. William Jacob and his wife, Estella, had five children. The two girls were steered toward vocational training while the three sons (William, born 1904; Lawrence, born 1906; and Clinton Everett, born 1908).

The Knox Brothers made many great advancements in the field of science that are still referenced to the current day.

Born in Massachusetts in 1904, William Jacob Knox, Jr. earned his PhD in chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1935. In 1942, he joined scientists at Columbia University in New York, using corrosive uranium hexaflouride gas to isolate uranium 235, which would ultimately be enriched on an industrial scale at Oak Ridge. Later Knox was appointed the head of an all-white Corrosion Section at Columbia, giving him the distinction of being the Manhattan Project’s only black supervisor. His brother Lawrence also worked on the Manhattan Project beginning in 1944, studying the effects of radiation.

On January 1, 1940 Lawrence H. Knox received his PhD in organic chemistry from Harvard University. He was one of 26 to receive that particular degree in the United States that year. He was also one of only 30 African Americans to receive a PhD degree in all branches of chemistry since 1916. His older brother, William Jr., was also one of the 30 African Americans who received a PhD in chemistry. William's PhD was in physical chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1935.

In his 25-year career with Eastman Kodak Knox earned 21 patents. He also was a co-founder of the Rochester Urban League, a member of the NAACP, served on the Housing Advisory Council, and assisted minority students in pursuing higher education.

Despite their successes and contributions to chemistry William and Lawrence were not protected from the pervasive racism of American society. Each brother faced rebuffs and humiliations and continually ran into roadblocks due to racism.

William Knox: https://chemistry.harvard.edu/news/ccb-spotlight-brothers-william-and-lawrence-knox

Lawrence Knox: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_H._Knox

The Lewis Brothers

Kyle and Kendall Lewis are twin brothers who obtained their undergraduate degree in Kinesiology at LSU in Baton Rouge a few years ago. They then worked as medical assistants at an Urgent Care clinic in New Orleans. After a couple of years, they applied to medical school at LSU Health in Shreveport in 2023.

In an interview for ksla.com Kyle said, "Growing up, I didn’t see many Black, African American male doctors. I really didn’t see many black doctors, so when we got introduced to Dr. Steven Jones, our mentor in New Orleans, that was like super eye opening for me and his impact. So, I know for my brother and I, we want to be really involved in the community, really engage with the youth just to show ‘look we did it; you can do it too.”

The twins were recently granted a residency program in family medicine at a hospital in Fort Worth where they’ll spend the next few years.

After they finish their residency they hope to practice together with their own family medicine clinic or sports medicine clinic. This is their ultimate goal, Kendall said.

The Lewis Brothers are our future and are role models for future generations.

The Wayan Brothers

The Wayan Brothers are Dwayne Howell Wayans, Keenen Ivory Desuma Wayans, Damon Kyle Wayans, Shawn Mathis Wayans, and Marlon Lamont Wayans and sisters Deidra Lenora Wayans, Kimberly Nichole Wayans, Elvira Alethia Wayans, Nadia Yvette Wayans, and Devone Chaunte 'Vonnie' Wayans The five brothers and five sisters were born to Howell Stouten Wayans and Elvira Alethia.

In 1987 Keenen wrote and starred in the comedy film Hollywood Shuffle which also starred Damon and Kim. This was their beginning on the road to fame and fortune.

Their flagship production, In Living Color, was a sketch comedy show which ran from 1990 to 1994. The show was created by Keenen and Damon and also featured Kim, Shawn, and Marlon. This show made the Wayans famous beyond anything they could imagine.

The Jackson Brothers

The Jackson family is one of the most successful and most famous family ventures in both the entertainment industry and the broader business world. At the heart of the Jackson family's success lies a group of five young men hailing from Detroit who went by the name "The Jackson 5."

The Jackson 5 consist of brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and Michael. The Jackson 5 who began using the name The Jacksons sold more than 100 million records worldwide. Six of their albums made the Top 10 and eleven of their singles made it to the Top Ten with four of those reaching #1.

Under the name Jackson 5, they produced a series of iconic tracks such as "I Want You Back," "ABC," and "I'll Be There." After transitioning to The Jacksons, this five-member group achieved success with songs like "Enjoy Yourself," "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)," and "State of Shock."

Before we move on let's not forget the Jackson sisters: Rebbie, LaToya, and Janet. Robbie and LaToya both achieve success in music. But it is Janet that went on to Major success with her albums: Control, Rhythm Nation, Janet., The Velvet Rope and others. She achieved 27 IS Top Hits with ten of those reaching #1.

All five of The Jackson 5 Brothers released soul albums and singles which charted. Jermaine Jackson had a successful career with three top 40 albums and seven top 40 singles. But it was Michael Jackson that went above and beyond any and all expectations.

The gloved one not only refined but also brought widespread popularity to the Moonwalk, a dance move with its origins dating back to the 1870s.

Michael Jackson's solo career went far beyond that of the Jackson 5 / Jacksons. Jackson is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with estimated sales of over 400 million records worldwide (Wikipedia). He had 13 #1 singles in the US and has won 15 Grammy Awards.

Michael Jackson's biggest success happened with the 1983 release of the Quincy Jones produced album Thriller. The album spent 37 weeks at #1 in the US and has sold more than 70 million copies worldwide and is the world's best selling album of all-time. It won a record breaking eight Grammy Awards including Album of the Year.

In total Jackson had ten Top Ten albums with six of those reaching #1. His classic albums include Ben, Off the Wall, Thriller, and Bad.

Jackson reached the Top Ten with 30 singles in the US, thirteen of those made it to #1. His classic hits include: "Ben," "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," "Rock With You," "Billie Jean," "Beat It," "Thriller," "Bad," "Man in the Mirror," "Black or White," and several others.

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The men mentioned in this article opened the doors to success for many African-American men. They were the trendsetters. The ones that faced adversity in the eye and kept moving forward.

Photo Credits: Wayans - Dan McMedan, Jacksons - Gijsbert Hanekroot, Michael Jackson - Sam Emerson

Websites used to research this article: ksla.com, thehistorymakers.org, www.nps.gov, wikipedia

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With Love from RHC ❤️

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About the Creator

Rick Henry Christopher

Writing is a distraction for me. It takes me to places unknown that fulfill my need for intellectual stimulus, emotional release, and a soothing of the breaks and bruises of the day.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/vocalplusassist

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Comments (17)

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  • Renè Marini - Digital Marketing Manager7 days ago

    "Reading about the journey from struggle to success is truly inspiring. It's a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the power of perseverance. Your story resonates with many, reminding us that challenges are stepping stones towards our goals. Thank you for sharing your triumphs and motivating others to push through their struggles. Truly a source of inspiration for anyone on their own path to success!"

  • Linda Rivenbark3 months ago

    Congratulations on this Top Story, Rick! You definitely earned it with this impressive, extensively researched article about the many African Americans who earned the high esteem of their fellow Americans, but too often received just the opposite. You also provided your sources for those who want to read more about them. Well done!!!

  • Atlantica4 months ago

    Let's interact with each other

  • Atlantica4 months ago

    great👍

  • Rachel Deeming4 months ago

    Great article, Rick. Paving the way for others and quite rightly.

  • Melissa Ingoldsby4 months ago

    Very impactful and in depth work on African American history !

  • The Dani Writer4 months ago

    A cornucopia of historical greats and a fantastic informative article!

  • Dana Crandell4 months ago

    What a great article about true groundbreakers! Well done, Rick and congratulations!

  • Babs Iverson4 months ago

    Fantastic!!! Loved it!!!💕❤️❤️ Congratulations on Top Story too!!!

  • Kendall Defoe 4 months ago

    Don't forget the Isleys! R.I.P. Rudolph... https://www.theguardian.com/music/2023/oct/12/rudolph-isley-founding-member-of-the-isleys-brothers-dies-at-84

  • Naveed 4 months ago

    Congratulations on achieving top story status!

  • Some incredible stories. Still but the tip of the iceberg of those who have devoted their lives to freedom, equality & making the world a better place for all people.

  • Loved these stories of course The Wayans bros are my favorite I do and always will think In Living Color was the best skit show of all time!

  • I have never heard of any of them before so I'm very grateful that you shared with this us. Thank you so much Rick! All of their stories were so powerful and inspiring! On a partially related note, I especially loved all the names of the brothers and sisters of the Wayans family. Their names were all so pretty!

  • Tiffany Gordon 4 months ago

    Fabulous work Cousin Rick! Such a great tribute!

  • Oh, man, this is a Great Article, Rick, ♥️💯😁👍With Excellent insights❗

  • Wow bro. This is a major part of American history. Very interesting and needs to be out there. Sharing

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