By Tempest Wright, Staff Writer/Illustrator –  February 25, 2021

Little-Known Facts About Black History

There are many everyday products and services we take for granted that wouldn’t exist without the contributions or genius of Black Americans. In fact, several large brands might not exist if it were not for the minds of Black Americans, including ADT Security Services, Rolex, Lay’s, Jack Daniel’s, every commercial airline, and every personal computer brand. Outside of household products and some luxuries, Black people are responsible for many lifesaving advances in medicine. In most recent history, the development of the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States was spearheaded by Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a Black American woman. What other contributions have Black Americans made to society as we know it? Far too many to count, but here are a few:

Marian Croak: Voice-Over Internet Protocol (VoIP)

Marian Croak, Vice President of Engineering at Google, invented voice-over internet protocol (VoIP) in 1995. This technology subsequently became responsible for the functions of Skype, WhatsApp, Google Phone, and Apple’s FaceTime.

Dr. Patricia Bath: Laserphaco Probe

Dr. Bath began working on the Laserphaco Probe in 1981. This device uses the power of laser technology to make cataract surgery less painful and more precise. With her invention, Dr. Bath reversed blindness, even in patients that have been blind for several years. Currently, Dr. Bath works as a volunteer to bring ophthalmological care to underserved communities.

Dr. Charles Drew: “Banked Blood”

Dr. Drew, born in 1903, researched blood transfusions and is responsible for the development of large-scale blood banks during World War II. His innovation saved thousands of lives during the war and countless lives up to today. Additionally, Dr. Drew protested the racial segregation of blood donation, as it had no scientific basis. He resigned from the American Red Cross, which maintained its position on segregated blood until 1950, the year of Dr. Drew’s death.

Alice H. Parker: Central Heating System

Alice H. Parker, an alumna of Howard University, invented the first central heating system. Dissatisfied with the fireplace in her cold New Jersey apartment, Parker was inspired to create something better to warm her home. Modifications for safety led directly to today’s modern heating systems. Additionally, Parker’s invention inspired the creation of thermostats and zone heating.

Valerie Thomas and Marc Hannah: 3D Images

Valerie Thomas, a NASA scientist, invented the illusion transmitter that creates the 3D images we see in movies and augmented reality. Thomas received the patent for her invention in 1980 and the technology is used by NASA’s Landsat program that acquires satellite imagery of Earth. Marc Hannah is an electrical engineer and computer graphics designer whose computer programs are credited for the production of the special effects in films such as Jurassic Park, Terminator 2, Beauty and the Beast (1991), and Aladdin (1992).

In all of Black Americans’ contributions to our society, irony lies in the fact that many Black people cannot benefit from the very things they created. For example, while the aforementioned COVID-19 vaccine could save countless lives, systemic racial barriers will keep some Black Americans from receiving immunization. Meanwhile, Black people have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Those who have access to health care face myriad microaggressions and overt racism by the professionals administering their care. Globally, the countries throughout the continent of Africa will be the last to see the COVID-19 vaccine.

The world as we know it, with all its modern wonders, probably would not exist without the creativity and innovations of Black Americans. Black history and liberation supersede the month of February. In order to fully honor the contributions of Black Americans in the past, we have to dismantle racism and prejudice and create a better world for Black Americans, and subsequently everyone, now and in the future.

To honor Black history is to foster a society where Black Americans continue changing the world and are celebrated for their accomplishments – untethered by white supremacist notions that try to devalue and erase a rich history of resilience filled with unfathomable accomplishments.

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