African Americans in Science and Technology
Six times a year, the editors of the Oxford African American Studies Center provide insights into black history and culture, showing ways in which the past and present interact by offering specially commissioned featured essays, photographic essays, and a selected list of articles that will further guide the reader. This month's feature looks at the contributions of African Americans to the fields of science and technology.
The contributions of George Washington Carver are known to many. As the most famous African American inventor in U.S. history, Carver, it too often seems, is both the beginning and the end of any discussion on black technological innovation. Few are aware that a prototype for the gasmask was invented by a black Chicagoan in 1914; that a wealthy, France-educated Creole engineer patented a sugar-refining process so groundbreaking it was financially backed by Judah P. Benjamin, former Vice President of the Confederacy; or that the expression “the Real McCoy” was reputedly inspired by the handiwork of serial tinkerer Elijah McCoy, a railroad man from Ohio. This is not to say that Carver, a pioneering agriculturist who devised over 500 uses for the peanut and won three patents, should be any less recognized for his momentous advances. It’s only to point out that—as the current Focus On demonstrates—African American innovation simply did not begin or end with him.View photo essay
The following entries have been selected to help guide readers who want to learn more about African American scientists and inventors. (Access to the following articles is available only to subscribers).