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Alexander, Archie Alphonsolocked

(14 May 1888–04 January 1958)
  • Charles E. Wynes

Extract

Alexander, Archie Alphonso (14 May 1888–04 January 1958), engineer, was born in Ottumwa, Iowa, the son of Price Alexander, a janitor and coachman, and Mary Hamilton. The Alexanders were members of a tiny African-American minority both in the town of Archie’s birth and in Des Moines, Iowa, where they moved when he was eleven years old. In Ottumwa the Alexanders lived in the section of town inhabited by the poor, both black and white; in Des Moines they lived on a small farm on the outskirts of town. Since Iowa’s public schools were not segregated, young Alexander attended school with whites, graduating from Des Moines’s Oak Park High School in 1905. Then, uncommon for the son of a janitor, whether black or white, he went on to further study. By working hard at part-time jobs, and with some help from his parents, Alexander attended Highland Park College and the Cummins Art School, both in Des Moines, before enrolling in the College of Engineering at the University of Iowa in Iowa City (1908). He was the College of Engineering’s only black student and, upon entering, allegedly was warned, bluntly but not unkindly, by one official that in the society of that day a Negro could not hope to succeed as an engineer. Continuing to support himself through a variety of part-time jobs, Alexander did well academically and also starred as the first black member of the varsity football team. It was on the gridiron as a tackle that he earned the title “Alexander the Great.” He even managed to pledge a fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi....

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