As I watched Black Panther, I couldn’t stop feeling grateful that young Black boys and young Black girls could see themselves in a film of that magnitude. It displayed a positive portrayal of the African diaspora rarely seen; Black Panther depicts Black people as royalty, spies, warriors and, most significantly, scientists. The most compelling characteristic of Wakanda is that it’s virtually a technological utopia, far superior to any other country on Earth and, on top of that, it’s governed by Africans.
Yes, Wakanda is a fictional place, and there isn’t anyone with Shuri’s particular skills or responsibilities – yet. But there have been plenty of Black people in real life that excelled in the areas of STEM. Here is a list of a few people across the diaspora, past and present, that have been influential in the science, technological, engineering, and math fields.
GEORGE EDWARD ALCORN JR.
Inventor of the X-Ray Imaging Spectrometer
If you’re intrigued by space, then you should know about George E. Alcorn. Alcorn served as a physicist and engineer at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center for over 30 years. He designed more than 30 inventions and received eight patents during his career. In 1981, he led a team of four people that invented the X-Ray Imaging Spectrometer, which is used to detect extraterrestrial life.
MARIE VAN BRITTAN BROWN
Inventor of the Home Security System
It’s common for women to sometimes feel unsafe when they’re alone. This was no exception for Marie Van Brittan Brown, a nurse who often found herself alone in her Jamaica Queens apartment when her husband was at work. She wanted to do something about her worrying and designed the first Home Security System in 1966. The system required that images from radio-controlled cameras would send images to a monitor or multiple monitors, additionally there would be a remote control that could lock or unlock the entrance door. Before then, camera surveillance had only been used in the military.
Founder and Executive Director of Black Girls Code
When Bryant was studying electrical engineering in college she noticed she was one of the few people of color there. Even though there’s been an increase in diversity since she was in school, there remains a lack of people of color in STEM industries, especially women of color. Thus, she started Black Girls Code in 2011, which trains young girls from underrepresented communities in computer programming and game design. Her goal is to provide African-American youth the skills to occupy the 1.4 million computing job openings expected to become available by 2020, and to train 1 million girls by 2040.
GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER
How much do you like peanuts? If you were George Washington Carver, you probably learned to like them a lot. Carver was born into slavery in 1861 but was freed shortly after with the abolition of slavery a few years later. He was unable to attend school where he lived because he was Black, but was able to obtain a high school education later on, and eventually received his master’s at Iowa State University for Agricultural Science. Since the agriculture business was in decline in the South at the time, Carver suggested that they plant peanuts and sweet potatoes to restore nitrogen to the soil and also provide Southerners with protein. Farmers had trouble selling the crops, so Carver came up with 300 peanut derivatives (including milk, flour, ink, dyes, plastics, etc.) and 118 from sweet potatoes (including sugar, molasses, synthetic rubber, and more).
Founder of Digital Undivided
Kathryn Finney understands the power and freedom in economic security. After all, she successfully launched and ran one of the first lifestyle blogs, Budget Fashionista, before selling it in 2014. Now, the tech entrepreneur and Yale and Rutgers honor graduate focuses on sharing her knowledge with other women. In 2013, Finney founded digitalundivided (DID), which provides Black and Latina women with connections, coaching, and funding to transition from their high growth companies into entrepreneurship.
LONNIE GEORGE JOHNSON
Inventor of the Super Soaker
Lonnie G. Johnson is an engineer for the Air Force and NASA, but that’s not what you know him for. If you were a kid in the 1990s then you’re definitely familiar with his work—in 1989, Johnson invented the Super Soaker, the first high-powered pressurized water gun. The Super Soaker became a massive hit, making $200 million in sales in 1991 and ranking among the Top 20 Best-Selling Toys in the world.
Inventor of Interchangeable Game Cartridges
It may be hard to believe, but there was a time when you could only play games that were built into the video game systems themselves. Then Jerry Lawson came into the picture, Director of engineering and marketing in the mid-1970’s for the video game division of Fairchild Semiconductor. Lawson developed the first home game console that allowed users to play different games contained on removable cartridges, which was released in 1976. This concept of being able to swap out multiple games per system is still being utilized up to this day.
GARRETT A. MORGAN
Inventor of the Traffic Light System
Can you imagine driving on the road without traffic lights? Well, that was the case when automobiles were first created. Back then, cops had to manage all of the traffic, which proved to be confusing. With only a sixth-grade education, Garrett Morgan improved traffic flow with his invention of the traffic light in 1923, which initially had two settings; stop and go, red and green.
MADAM C. J. WALKER
Founder of a Hair Care Line and Self-Made Millionaire
In the early 1900s it was common for people to suffer hair loss because of the lack of indoor plumbing; unable to wash their hair, their scalps were vulnerable to bacteria and lice. Madame C. J. Walker (born Sarah Breedlove) also lost her hair and experimented with her own formula to cure scalp infections. In 1905, she worked for a pharmacist and was able to learn the fundamental chemistry that allowed her to perfect her ointment. Her haircare line was so successful she became one of America’s first self-made female millionaires.
DANIEL HALE WILLIAMS
First Doctor to Perform Open-Heart Surgery
Daniel Williams was a skilled surgeon, but unfortunately was rejected from hospitals because he was Black. This led him to open his own hospital in 1891—Provident Hospital in Chicago—the first in the country to have an interracial staff. One day, he received a patient with a stab wound. Williams performed the very first open-heart surgery, which was not only successful, but the patient experienced a full recovery.
Inventor of the Cardiopad
There is a lack of doctors in Cameroon, so patients are forced to travel far distances to see one. Arthur Zang created a solution for this in 2012 by inventing what he called the Cardiopad, a touch screen medical tablet that performs heart exams similar to an ECG and transmits data wirelessly to specialists. This device allows more patients access to doctors and also decreases health costs.
Written by Dy
Dy is an aspiring filmmaker with a B.S. in Video- Film. Her hobbies include binging anime, reading comic books and watching TV and movies. Follow her on twitter @dyprinzess.
Writer’s note: I am speaking on behalf of myself and my views do not necessarily reflect those of anyone else.