As the nation continues to deal with racial injustice, February provides us with the opportunity to celebrate the many Black Americans who have shaped our history.
When Carter G. Woodrow proposed Black History Month in 1926 (initially Negro History Week), it was his intent to address the lack of African-American history acknowledged in the school systems.
Woodrow, known as the Father of Black History, said, "Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history."
Many of these individuals in our history were inventors and entrepreneurs who, through their ingenuity, created solutions for our everyday problems. Here are four Black American inventors who can inspire us today.
Madam C.J. Walker: Seek to create opportunities.
One of the first American women to become a self-made millionaire and the first Black woman millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker was known for her homemade line of hair products for Black women.
Walker invented the product after suffering from hair loss due to a scalp disorder. In 1907, Walker and her husband traveled throughout the South promoting her "Walker system." The method included the combination of scalp preparation, lotions and iron combs.
From there, her company grew, leading her to open a factory and beauty school in Pittsburgh in 1908, and then transfer operations to Indianapolis in 1910.
The company also trained sales beauticians. Walker once said, "Don’t sit down and wait for opportunities. Get up and make them!"
Garrett August Morgan: Always strive to be the best.
Garrett August Morgan was an inventor who held several patents, including a revamped sewing machine, a hair-straightening product, a breathing device, and the three-position traffic light.
Early into his career, Morgan learned the innerworkings of the then-current version of a sewing machine. Upon discovering inherent design flaws, Morgan obtained a patent for an improvement of the machine.
From there, Morgan would go on to patent a hair-straightening product. He also designed a breathing device that would be a precursor for the gas mask in World War I.
As the first Black man to own a car in Cleveland, Morgan realized a problem with the two-signal traffic light when he witnessed an accident.
The traffic light as it was made at the time didn’t allow enough time for drivers to slow down by providing advance warning.
To solve this proble, he created a new three-way traffic light in 1923 and acquired the patent for it, which he eventually sold to General Electric.
Morgan is remembered for saying, "If you can be the best, then why not try to be the best?"
Marie Van Brittan Brown: Create solutions to a problem.
With both she and her husband working late nights and living in a high-crime neighborhood, Marie Van Brittan Brown set out to find a way to see who was at her door when she heard knocking.
In 1966, Brown with the help of her husband, an electronics technician, invented a home security system with peepholes, sliding cameras, television monitors and two-way microphones.
The system also included an emergency button which would alert the police or security.
She received the patent for the invention in 1969 and won an award from the National Scientists Committee for her work.
This system has since been adapted and used in banks, office buildings and apartment complexes.
Otis Boykin: Keep perfecting your trade.
Otis Boykin was known for his work on improving electrical resistors, earning over 25 patents from 1959 to 1985 in this field.
Boykin’s first patent was a wire precision resistor, followed by an electronic resistor, which was more affordable and easier to reproduce.
This type of resistor was incorporated into several products, including guided missiles and IBM computers.
A later version of his resistor would be used for the pacemaker, which helps thousands of people around the world.
Other achievements include a burglar-proof cash register and a chemical air filter. But, his most notable development was a control function used in the first successful pacemaker.
Our lives would be very different if it were not for the hard work and determination of these four individuals.
As we celebrate Black History Month this year, let us continue to engage in conversations for change in our nation. Americans can no longer remain bystanders to the racial inequalities that still exist today.
Dr. Kent Ingle serves as the president of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, one of the fastest growing private universities in the nation. A champion of innovative educational design, Ingle is the author of "Framework Leadership.'' As president of Southeastern University, Ingle founded the American Center for Political Leadership and is also a founding member of the Presidents' Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. Before becoming Southeastern's president in 2011, Ingle held leadership positions in higher education and in the nonprofit sector in Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle. Ingle is the author of several leadership books and the creator of the Framework Leadership podcast. He currently serves on the board of the Florida Chamber Foundation. Read Kent Ingle's Reports — More Here.
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