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Black Facts for December 3rd

1866 - Rock, John S. (1825-1866)

John S. Rock was born to free black parents in Salem, New Jersey in 1825. He attended public schools in New Jersey until he was 19 and then worked as a teacher between 1844 and 1848.  During this period Rock began his medical studies with two white doctors. Although he was initially denied entry, Rock was finally accepted into the American Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He graduated in 1852 with a medical degree. While in medical school Rock practiced dentistry and taught classes at a night school for African Americans.  In 1851 he received a silver medal for the creation of an improved variety of artificial teeth and another for a prize essay on temperance.   

At the age of 27, Rock, a teacher, doctor and dentist, moved to Boston, Massachusetts in 1852 to open a medical and dental office. He was commissioned by the Vigilance Committee, an organization of abolitionists, to treat fugitive slaves’ medical needs. During this period Dr. Rock increasingly identified with the abolitionist movement and soon became a prominent speaker for that cause.  While he called on the United States government to end slavery, he also urged educated African Americans to use their talents and resources to assist their community.  

Following his own advice, Rock studied law and in 1861 became one of the first African Americans to be admitted to the Massachusetts Bar before the Civil War.  Soon afterwards Massachusetts Governor John Andrew appointed Rock Justice of the Peace for Boston and Suffolk County.  In 1863 Rock helped assemble the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the first officially-recognized African American unit in the Union Army during the Civil War.  Rock would later campaign for equal pay for these and other black soldiers. In 1865, with support from Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, Rock became the first African American lawyer to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Previously, Rock’s health had deteriorated in the late 1850s.  He underwent several surgeries and was forced to halt his

1935 - Walker, Howard Kent (1935- )

Howard Kent Walker is a military veteran, diplomat, and educator who was born on December 3, 1935 in Newport News, Virginia. His father was a high school chemistry and mathematics teacher and his mother a homemaker. Upon graduation from high school Walker enrolled at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan where he studied until 1958.

During his time in Ann Arbor Walker eventually majored in political science and was also part of the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), which meant he would have a three-year obligation to the U.S. Air Force after graduation, which he fulfilled (1962-1965). After his military service and a brief stint as an analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Walker passed the Foreign Service exam, becoming a Foreign Service Officer in 1969.  His first assignment was in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Inter-Africa Affairs, working on Africa-United Nations issues.

Walker’s first overseas assignment was at the U.S. Embassy in Lagos, Nigeria (1971-1973).  He returned to Washington, D.C. to serve as an International Relations Officer for West African Affairs (1973-1975). He then was assigned as a Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan (1975-1977) and next to the Embassy in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania (1977-1979) where he served as Deputy Chief of Mission, the second in charge of the embassy.  From 1979 to 1981 he held the same position in Pretoria, South Africa.

In 1982, President Ronald Reagan appointed Walker to be U.S. Ambassador to Togo, where he served until 1984. During his time in Togo, one of Ambassador Walker’s main assignments was in persuading the tiny West African country, which now held a non-permanent seat on the United Nation’s Security Council, to support U.S. policy interests against the Soviet Union during the final decade of the Cold War.

After Togo, Ambassador Walker became a Foreign Affairs Fellow at the Foreign Service Institute (1984-1985), and then Director of the Office of West African Affairs (1985-1987).