Madame C.J. Walker created a beauty empire with her products that served women of color. Walker is credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the first female self-made millionaire. (Courtesy Photo)

By Ralph E. Moore Jr.

Did you ever hear of Mark E. West? Dr. James Dean? Garrett A. Morgan? Or Dr. Shirley Jackson? They are each brilliant, Black scientists who created meaningful technology tools that made life better for us everyday people. You can look them up on the internet thanks to a Black inventor. In the meantime, here are a few Black inventors and their gifts to progress.


  • Garrett Morgan (1877-1963) and the traffic light


Garrett Morgan, from a small town in Kentucky, observed a good deal of accidents on busy streets. With his knowledge of technology and machines, he was inspired to create the traffic light we now see in red, yellow and green everywhere. Too few know about Morgan’s great influence on traffic safety. His signal has saved lives and given all safer passage on streets everywhere. Incidentally, Garrett Morgan also used his great mind to invent the gas mask.


  • Madame C.J. Walker (1867-1919) and beauty products


Madam C.J. Walker used her amazing creativity to launch the beauty products industry which is valued at a billion dollars today. The Guiness Book of World Records reports Walker as the first female self-made millionaire. She was born in 1867 and died in 1919 but she was an entrepreneurial, political and philanthropic force to be reckoned with in her lifetime. And women feel better about their appearance in public because of her brilliance.


  • Marie Van Brittan Brown (1922-1999) and the home security system


A more recent device by a hidden inventor is the home security system created by African-American Marie Van Brittan Brown, a full-time nurse by profession. Based on her personal experiences of the need for security in her home, Ms. Brown invented the first home security system that enabled her to get alerts from her home when needed and to contact the police if an intrusion were occurring. Many family homes around the world have the protection of security systems and they all have Marie Van Brittan Brown to thank.

A host of other hidden Black geniuses

Black genius is oftentimes hidden from larger society due to racial discrimination, but the creativity just keeps on coming. Dr. Daniel Hale Williams invented the blood bank by figuring out how to separate plasma from the blood and storing it. Few know that Dr. Williams was also the first surgeon to perform open heart surgery successfully. It took place in Chicago on July 9, 1893. Lonnie G. Johnson invented a popular child’s toy, the Super Soaker Water Gun. Reportedly, the serious scientist is working on a Thermoelectric Energy Converter that will convert heat into electricity. Johnson is not playing when it comes to inventing. Many Black and Brown school children know that George Washington Carver invented peanut butter but few know that Lewis Latimer (1848-1928), also a Black man, invented one of the first sets of usable air conditioners and he contributed his brain power to the inventions of the lightbulb and the telephone.

Throughout the years, Black women and men were, more often than not, denied credit in society for their genius. For example, Benjamin Banneker got too little credit for his part in designing the layout of Washington, D.C. Pierre L’Enfant is heralded for that. Life as we know it would be incredibly different without the amazing brainpower and applied creativity of African Americans making our world better. 

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