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The Black Changemakers You Need to Know

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

By Savannah Kayongo

Image retrieved from Grist

There are countless black innovators who left a tremendous impact on our world, yet school systems and mass media often portray their downfalls. Without prominent black figures throughout history and the 21st century, the world would not be the same today. Most people only know black inventors for trivial discoveries that our textbooks show, like potato chips or peanut butter. However, there is so much more that must be unveiled. We are familiar with African American leaders like Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, but we don’t learn more about the African American community entirely and their eternal impacts on our lifestyles, with their very own discoveries and culture. Here are the obscure, yet monumental, black figures whose inventions make up our daily routine.

Imagine waking up at 5 AM — your eyes can rarely keep open while the sky is still a bit gloomy. You turn on your light bulb, in which school systems informed us that Thomas Edison is responsible for this invention. Inside of a lightbulb contains a filament, and without this source, a lightbulb cannot function. This is where American inventor and draftsman Lewis Latimer comes into play, who invented the key component of the filament for the overall function of a lightbulb. After waking up in the morning, you go to the bathroom to get ready and look in the mirror. Your hair is a mess! You open your drawer and decide whether you need to use a comb or a brush. Both of these items were invented by African Americans. Lyda Newman is the woman behind the brush while Walter Sammons invented the hot comb. Now, your phone is ringing. Without Henry T. Sampson who invented this device, you would not know who would be calling you. After you are done getting ready, you enter the kitchen to make yourself some breakfast and decide that you want some eggs. You open your refrigerator to search for your eggs, but without the African American inventor John Standard, that would not happen. Once you grab your eggs, you find a pan and lay it on a stove, which was invented by T.A Warrington. Almost every item in our customary lives were all created by the discoveries of African Americans. Black inventions are all around us — we just never notice.

Image retrieved from AstroReality

Aside from inventions, African American figures throughout history have made revolutionary efforts in science and pop culture, but our textbooks reiterate the same, popular black figures when there are various more that have yet to be discovered. Guion Stewart Bluford Jr, for example, was the first black man to become an astronaut and go to space. Bluford opened the door for a myriad of African American men and women. What’s more, Samuel J. Battle was the first black police man to be in an integrated police station, and Edward Bouchet was the first black person to earn a PhD. Most of our history lessons in school are composed of lengthy slideshows that discuss European history, but fail to give that effort for teaching African American history. We need to learn about the incredible black men and women who spent their entire lives fighting for social equity, yet never received the recognition they deserve.

From the moment we wake up the second we fall asleep, we are influenced by black leaders without even realizing. The next time you are sitting in class with the teacher teaching about slavery that is often the only lesson centered around African Americans, think about Guion Bluford Jr, T.A. Warrington, and the many other influential change makers and inventors. There must be a future where these undiscovered figures are finally recognized for their impact on our world.

Written by writer Savannah Kayongo

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