Through genius, work ethic, and ingenuity, Black people have woven themselves into the fabric of American innovation in technological and cultural advancement. However, these contributions often go unnoticed, because a system of oppression writes a shaded history, in which it is convenient to downplay the ways in which African Americans have made our country what it is today.
Inventor Lewis Howard Latimer, the son of freed slaves, invented the filament at the heart of light bulbs in the 1880s. Edison’s paper filaments didn’t last very long and it was Latimer’s longer-lasting carbon filaments that took this technology took a critical step. This exemplifies what ThisIsBlacklight is about, but it’s not often taught in our history books.
Not only were Blacks’ contributions downplayed, but through envy, lies and treachery, some white communities have completely decimated nearby Black communities. Tulsa’s Black Wall Street in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma were burned to the ground in the 1920’s and at least 300 (up to thousands of) Black people were murdered by a nearby community of whites who were jealous of their prosperity. CNN did a report in 2016, linked below. Black folks were doing pretty good for themselves, and that just couldn’t be allowed to happen.
Raye Montague of Arkansas was the first person to design a naval vessel with a computer. Given one month to complete the task, Montague finished in 18 hours.
For a film in which Black people share their stories of making a mark on the world, check out the recently released “Hidden Figures” (based on the book) about a group of women who made it possible for NASA to put men on the moon.
Sci Show’s Hank Green discusses a few other inventions and contributions in this short video below.
However, it wasn’t all about technology. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were leaders in the trans movements in the 1970’s. Part of their story is depicted in a great episode of Drunk History on Comedy Central. The characters are played by two trans actors.