For most of us, we have spent years learning about Martin Luther King, Fredrick Douglass, Rosa Parks and other African American contributors to society. These are amazing men and women that have changed the course of history, but there are so many more! Most will never go down in history for their contributions. But here are a few. I hope you enjoy! Share it with a friends if you learn something new.
16. Frederick McKinley Jones
Frederick McKinley Jones was one of the most prolific Black inventors ever. Frederick Jones patented more than sixty inventions, however, he is best known for inventing an automatic refrigeration system for long-haul trucks in 1935 (a roof-mounted cooling device). Jones was the first person to invent a practical, mechanical refrigeration system for trucks and railroad cars, which eliminated the risk of food spoilage during long-distance shipping trips. The system was, in turn, adapted to a variety of other common carriers, including ships. Frederick Jones was issued the patent on July 12, 1940.
15. Lonnie Johnson
Lonnie Jonson was brought up in Mobile, Alabama in the 1960s. He was so talented in engineering that he worked for Nasa and helped test the first stealth bomber. He is also the inventor of the super soaker.
14. Norbert Rillieux
Norbert Rillieux was born on March 17, 1806 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Norbert was born a free man, although his mother was a slave. His father was a wealthy White engineer involved in the cotton industry. Rillieux patented the multiple-effect vacuum pan evaporator. This device heated sugar cane juice in a partial vacuum, reducing its boiling point, allowing much greater fuel efficiency. This innovation, adopted in sugar refining, escalated production, reduced the price, and was responsible for transforming sugar into a household item. Similar technology was subsequently developed for the production of soap, gelatin, and glue. Some have called Rillieux’s evaporator the greatest invention in the history of American chemical engineering.
13. Bessie Blount
Bessie Blount (1914-2009) was a physical therapist who worked with injured soldiers during World War II. She recognized their need and desire to do more on their own, and she invented an assistive device that permitted people who had lost limbs to feed themselves. Her next invention was for something she saw that could be used by any hospital—a disposable emesis basin (the kidney shaped basins used in hospitals for medical waste). With much experimentation, she developed a paper mulch that could be mixed and baked. This provided a relatively easy method to manufacture multiple basins that could be tossed after use. After the publication of her paper, she started hearing from people who wanted her opinion on forgeries. This led to a new career in forensics. By the late 1960s she was assisting police departments in both Vineland, New Jersey, and Norfolk, Virginia. Eventually, she joined the Portsmouth, Virginia police department as a chief examiner.
12. Elijah McCoy
In 1872, McCoy developed an automatic lubricator that spread oil evenly over a train's engine while it was still moving. The invention allowed trains to run for long periods of time without stopping, which saved both time and money. McCoy was a prolific inventor, securing dozens of patents in his lifetime. As his invention grew in popularity, inferior copycats emerged. Railway engineers requested "the real McCoy." The popular expression, meaning "the real thing," is still used today.
11. William J. Seymour
Of all the outstanding black American religious leaders in the twentieth century, one of the least recognized is William Seymour, the unsung pastor of the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles and catalyst of the worldwide Pentecostal movement. Only in the last few decades have scholars become aware of his importance, beginning perhaps with Yale University historian Sidney Ahlstrom, who said Seymour personified a black piety "which exerted its greatest direct influence on American religious history"—placing Seymour's impact ahead of figures like W. E. B. Dubois and Martin Luther King, Jr.
10. Otis Boykin
Boykin, in his lifetime, ultimately invented more than 25 electronic devices. One of his early inventions was an improved electrical resistor for computers, radios, televisions and an assortment of other electronic devices. Other notable inventions include a variable resistor used in guided missiles and small component thick-film resistors for computers. Boykin’s most famous invention was probably a control unit for the pacemaker. The device, essentially, uses electrical impulses to maintain a regular heartbeat. Ironically, Boykin died of heart failure in 1982.
9. Sarah Boone
Born in the Deep South—in Summit, Pike County, Mississippi—in the 1860s or 1870s, Sarah Boone made her name by inventing the ironing board. Boone was a rarity during her time, a female African-American inventor. In her patent application, she wrote that the purpose of her invention was "to produce a cheap, simple, convenient and highly effective device, particularly adapted to be used in ironing the sleeves and bodies of ladies' garments." Prior to that time, most people ironed using a board of wood rested across a pair of chairs or tables. She was living in New Haven, Connecticut, when her patent was granted in 1892. She died in 1900.
8. Amanda Beery Smith
After this encounter, she was consumed by a new desire to fast and pray. God opened up many doors for her to preach—notably on the holiness of God—in America, England, India, Africa, and elsewhere throughout the world. Amanda Beery Smith ministered in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In an era in which many black people were not even allowed to speak in church or address white people as equals, she was given supernatural favor to preach to white believers as a black woman.
7. Garrett Morgan
Garrett Morgan was an inventor and businessman from Cleveland who invented a device called the Morgan safety hood and smoke protector in 1914. On July 25, 1916, Garrett Morgan made national news for using his gas mask to rescue 32 men trapped during an explosion in an underground tunnel 250 feet beneath Lake Erie. Morgan and a team of volunteers donned the new “gas masks” and went to the rescue. After the rescue, Morgan’s company received requests from fire departments around the country who wished to purchase the new masks. The Morgan gas mask was later refined for use by U.S. Army during World War I. In 1914, Garrett Morgan was awarded a patent for a Safety Hood and Smoke Protector. After witnessing a collision between an automobile and a horse-drawn carriage, Garrett Morgan took his turn at inventing a traffic signal. Other inventors had experimented with, marketed, and even patented traffic signals, however, Garrett Morgan was one of the first to apply for and acquire a U.S. patent for an inexpensive to produce traffic signal.
6. Fred Shuttlesworth
Shuttlesworth was born in Mount Meigs, Alabama during the height of lynching and segregation in the south. In his youth, his family moved to Birmingham for better economic opportunities and education. He graduated from high school as class valedictorian. Then Shuttlesworth went on to earn his education from Selma University and Alabama State College. He would go on to become one of the most prominent civil rights activist in 1950s and onward. In 1953, Shuttlesworth became pastor at Birmingham’s Bethel Baptist Church where he started fighting for civil rights in the city. He began to push for Black police, and in 1956, he founded the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. His work in Birmingham attracted the attention of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Shuttlesworth, King and Ralph David Abernathy were instrumental figures in the creation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The men were commonly known as the Big Three, spearheading the movement and leading countless protests against segregation. Shuttlesworth also provided housing and resources for the student protesters and the Freedom Riders.
5. Patricia Bath
Dr. Patricia Bath, an ophthalmologist from New York, but living in Los Angeles when she received her patent, became the first African American woman doctor to receive a patent for a medical invention. Patricia Bath’s patent (no. 4,744,360), a method for removing cataract lenses, transformed eye surgery, using a laser device making the procedure more accurate (Cataract Laserphaco Probe). The probe, patented in 1988, is designed to use the power of a laser to quickly and painlessly vaporize cataracts from patients’ eyes, replacing the more common method of using a grinding, drill-like device to remove the afflictions. With another invention, Bath was able to restore sight to people who had been blind for over 30 years.
4. Eliza Davis George
Eliza and another missionary opened a school for children in the interior of Liberia, where there were few missionaries or churches. They called the school Bible Industrial Academy, and their aim was to teach children to read the Bible and show them helpful life skills. Within the first two years they had fifty children attending the academy and saw more than 1,000 people accept the Lord in the nearby villages.
Eliza served as an evangelist, teacher, and church planter throughout Sinoe County, Liberia. Wherever she established ministries, she trained Liberian young people and sent them as missionaries to take the Word of God to their own people and to provide education for their children.
3. George Edward Alcorn
Physicist George Edward Alcorn, Jr. is best known for his development of the imaging x-ray spectrometer. An x-ray spectrometer assists scientists in identifying a material by producing an x-ray spectrum of it, allowing it to be examined visually. This is especially advantageous when the material is not able to be broken down physically. Alcorn patented his “method for fabricating an imaging x-ray spectrometer” in 1984. He was cited for his method’s innovative use of the thermomigration of aluminum. For this achievement he was recognized with the NASA/GSFC (Goddard Space Flight Center) Inventor of the Year Award.
2. Lewis Latimer
Lewis Latimer was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1848. He was the son of George and Rebecca Latimer, escaped slaves from Virginia. Latimer was hired as the assistant manager and draftsman for U.S. Electric Lighting Company owned by Hiram Maxim. Maxim was the chief rival to Thomas Edison. Maxim greatly desired to improve on Edison’s light bulb and focused on the main weakness of Edison’s bulb – their short life span (generally only a few days.) Latimer set out to make a longer lasting bulb. Latimer devised a way of encasing the filament within an cardboard envelope which prevented the carbon from breaking and thereby provided a much longer life to the bulb and hence made the bulbs less expensive and more efficient. This enabled electric lighting to be installed within homes and throughout streets.
1. Jarena Lee
Like Sojourner Truth, Jarena Lee spoke truth to power and paved the way for other mid- to late 19th-century black female preachers to achieve validation as pulpit leaders, although neither she nor Truth received official clerical appointments.
Thank you for reading! Below are bibliographies for the websites where I gathered this information. Continue to research people who made a difference that aren't talked about as much.
“Bessie Blount Griffin, Physical Therapist and Inventor.” America Comes Alive, 5 Oct. 2017, americacomesalive.com/2016/02/11/bessie-blount-griffin-physical-therapist-and-inventor/.
Kenyatta R. Gilbert, Associate Professor of Homiletics, Howard University. “Hidden Figures: How Black Women Preachers Spoke Truth to Power.” The Conversation, 1 Mar. 2018, theconversation.com/hidden-figures-how-black-women-preachers-spoke-truth-to-power-73185.
“Lonnie Johnson: The Father of the Super Soaker.” BBC News, BBC, 15 Aug. 2016, www.bbc.com/news/magazine-37062579.
Riley, Ricky. “8 Fascinating Facts About Civil Rights Leader Fred Shuttlesworth.” Atlanta Black Star, 6 Nov. 2015, atlantablackstar.com/2015/11/06/8-fascinating-facts-about-civil-rights-leader-fred-shuttlesworth/2/.
“Sarah Boone.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 14 Feb. 2018, www.biography.com/people/sarah-boone-21329877.
SYNAN, VINSON. “Pentecostalism: William Seymour.” Christianity Today, www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-65/pentecostalism-william-seymour.html.
“Top 10 African American Inventors.” List Verse.com, 29 Oct. 2007, teacher.scholastic.com/activities/bhistory/inventors/images/boykin.jpg.