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Black Inventors

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Marie Van Brittan Brown – Home security system

In 1966 she and her husband Albert Brown invented the home security system. She felt unsafe in her neighborhood and so created a device that would make her feel safe in her own home. She built the foundation for a home security system in which several of her design elements are used in our home security systems today.

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Valerie Thomas

3D film, TV, and medical imaging precursor Valerie was responsible for the development of the 3D illusion transmitter in 1977. This invention has led to the inventions of 3D technologies possible including 3D film, 3D TV, and modern medical imaging.

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A.W. MARTIN

In 1889, W. A. Martin patented the lock. His invention was an improvement to the original invented by the Chinese over 4000 years old. It then paved the way to the design of modern door locks.  

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GEORGE ROBERT CARRUTHERS

George Robert Carruthers was an African American inventor, physicist, engineer, and space scientist. Carruthers perfected a compact and very powerful ultraviolet camera/spectrograph for NASA to use when it launched Apollo 16 in 1972.

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DR. MARIAN CROAK

The next time you use FaceTime (or Zoom, or Skype, or WhatsApp or Google Voice), you can thank Dr. Marian Croak.  Though she’s currently a vice president of engineering at Google, the development she’s best known for happened when she was an engineer at AT&T’s renowned Bell Labs.  Marian and her team worked on advancing voice over IP technologies, furthering the capabilities of audio and video conferencing.

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LISA GELOBTER

Speaking of interaction, if you’ve ever sent someone a reaction GIF, you can thank Lisa Gelobter. The computer scientist is credited for her work on Shockwave, a browser-based multimedia platform for interactive applications whose use of animation laid the groundwork for the GIFs we know and love today. 

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DR. LONNIE JOHNSON

Lonnie Johnson is an inventor, aerospace engineer, and entrepreneur. After completing a degree in nuclear engineering, Johnson went on to a career in government, split between the U.S. Air Force and NASA.  While with USAF and NASA, he worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and worked on the stealth bomber project.  Despite his success, Johnson said, "I thought to myself that, you know, I have more to contribute.” He invented the Super Soaker water gun in 1990, which has been among the world's bestselling toys ever since. He also invented the nerf gun, and currently

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THOMAS L. JENNINGS

The aforementioned first African American U.S. patent recipient was working as a tailor and businessman in New York City when he invented a process for dry-cleaning delicate clothing known as “dry-scouring.” Jennings applied for a patent in 1820 and received his history-making approval the following year. 

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JAN ERNEST MATZELIGER

In the 19th century, the average person couldn't afford shoes. That changed thanks to Jan Ernst Matzeliger (1852-1889), an immigrant from Dutch Guiana (modern Surinam) who worked as an apprentice in a Massachusetts shoe factory. Matzeliger invented the automated machine that attached a shoe’s upper part to its sole.

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GARRETT MORGAN

Garrett Morgan developed what he called the safety hood after noticing how many firefighters were killed by smoke on the job. The hood, which went over the head, featured tubes connected to wet sponges that filtered out smoke and provided fresh oxygen.

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Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett
KEY SCIENTIST Behind the COVID-19 Vaccine
(Dr. Anthony Fauci said Kizzmekia Corbett's involvement is a sign of hope)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and a constant presence on TV during the coronavirus pandemic, was asked a blunt question during a forum hosted last week by the National Urban League: "Can you talk about the input of African American scientists in the vaccine process?"

Fauci did not hesitate when giving his answer.

"The very vaccine that's one of the two that has absolutely exquisite levels -- 94 to 95% efficacy against clinical disease and almost 100% efficacy against a serious disease that is shown to be clearly safe -- that vaccine was actually developed in my institute's vaccine research center by a team of scientists led by Dr. Barney Graham and his close colleague, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, or Kizzy Corbett," Fauci told the forum. "Kizzy is an African American scientist who is right at the forefront of the development of the vaccine."

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Musical Innovations

of African-Americans

Without African Americans, there is no American music.  Some of the most raw, energetic, complex, and groundbreaking music that has ever been played were played by African Americans from the US.  Everything we listen to today, in some way or another, was influenced by their musical vision and innovation.

The Banjo

Invented by enslaved Africans in Appalachia, the banjo may not be a hugely popular musical instrument today, but it has proven to be an essential component of many types of American roots music. Roots music is a broad term that refers to music that was developed in the US and is said to have spawned most forms of American music, including country, folk, jazz, blues, and to a certain extent, rock music too.

The Blues

Evolving from slave-era work songs and spirituals, the blues were invented in African American communities in the deep south. Blues is a very open style of music that can be played in many different ways. Over time, various styles emerged in different locations, and these regional variations would eventually form the basis of what would become Jazz, R&B, and Rock and Roll.

JAZZ

Originating in the New Orleans area at the beginning of the 20th century, jazz is arguably the most profound American musical innovation, with just as much significance as European classical music. Jazz has of course evolved within itself many times over, with every evolution spawning even more musical innovations and innovators.

RAGTIME

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First heard at the very end of the 19th century, Ragtime music was a style of music innovated by freed slaves who worked in vaudeville. It was popularized by classically-trained pianist Scott Joplin. Ragtime music formed the basis for what would soon be called jazz.

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Musical Innovations

of African-Americans

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DIXIELAND

Invented in New Orleans at the beginning of the 20th century, what later became known as “Dixieland” jazz was a musical style played in bars and brothels in the Storyville area of New Orleans. Using musical instruments from European classical music, and influenced by the Blues, Ragtime, and various Latin and Caribbean music traditions, Dixieland jazz was the beginning of it all. One of the most famous musicians to come from this tradition was one of the most beloved entertainers of the 20th century, Louis Armstrong.

 

SWING

Swing music started gaining momentum in the 1920s with the musical innovations of people like Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, and Billy Strayhorn. Featuring large bands that played dance music, swing became the most popular American music from this time through the ’40s. In addition, the swing era brought a more broad, and white audience to jazz, and many white musicians were beginning to play jazz music. People such as Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Artie Shaw introduced swing music to this wider audience and opened the doors for people like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

BEBOP

Bebop is an innovation within jazz that initially was exclusively played by black musicians. Bebop is credited for taking jazz away from popular music, and into the more creative and innovative territory. Bebop is generally played very fast and was not intended for dancing. It has even been claimed that bebop music was played so fast and with such virtuosity that white musicians could not play it. Some of the greatest jazz musicians who ever lived came from the bebop movement. Charlie ParkerDizzy GilespieBud PowellThelonious Monk, and Max Roach were masters of their instruments and legendary musical innovators.