Highlighting the contributions of black Americans

Image by Zach Lucero

Image by Zach Lucero

Since our founding in 1776, Americans have made some astounding achievements in a short amount of time. We were first in flight, the first to put a man on the moon, and we created the internet - to name just a few successes. But what about the role Americans of color played in these incredible achievements? February is Black History Month, a time set aside for reflection and education.

In keeping with these elements, I want to draw attention to the lesser known - but just as important - people of color who have contributed to the development of America.

Bessie Coleman became the first American of African and Native American descent to receive a pilot’s license all the way back in 1921. This is significant not only because she was a woman breaking into a man’s profession, but also because she was an woman of color breaking the white mold, and it was just 18 years after the Wright Brothers’ first successful flight.

More well known is Katherine Johnson, who was essential to American development of space technology and ideological success during the Cold War. Her knowledge and application of advanced mathematics were essential in making the world’s first human spaceflight successful when she did critical trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 mission in 1961. Furthermore, John Glenn refused to go into space before Katherine Johnson confirmed the calculations previously conducted by a computer. Katherine Johnson was critical to the success of the mission and stood at the pivotal moment of the space race. Her fame, however, came only recently with the arrival of a Hollywood blockbuster, Hidden Figures, dedicated to increasing the awareness of her and other women of color’s roles in sending humans to the moon.

As for one of the most-used technologies today, the internet began with the massive IBM computer, which was perfected by many computer scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. Otis Boykin was one of the most important. His work on the electrical resistor was essential to the development of many modern technologies including common household appliances, computers, and even guided missiles. But one of the most important device his invention contributed to was the pacemaker, which, since its creation in 1960, has helped extend the lives of thousands upon thousands of people across the world.

These are just a few Americans of color who have contributed to our nation's accomplishments. While it is great that we have a whole month dedicated to learning more about their decisive role in America’s progress, we should be celebrating them and their accomplishments outside of this month as well.

We are in this together, and if we do not learn about the whole picture, we’re doing ourselves a great disservice. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu once said, “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” I believe his words sum up the necessity in continuing the fight for civil rights - even after the month of February ends.

Article by Culture Editor Daniel Cramer, @danielcramer98