Black History Month is a time for online students to celebrate the important contributions that many African Americans have made to America’s history. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X are some of the most well-known African American figures. Yet there are many lesser-known heroes with great stories about how they helped shape the country we live in today.
The Stories You Never Heard
George Crum was the inventor of the potato chip—that delicious snack we eat with hot dogs, hamburgers, and just about any other sandwich you can think of. In 1853, he worked as a chef at the Moon Lake Lodge resort in Saratoga Lake, New York. After a customer complained about their french-fried potatoes being too thick, he had the idea to cut the potatoes thin, fry them in oil, and season them with salt. Crum’s “Saratoga chips” became one of the lodge’s most popular appetizers, and are now one of America’s favorite snacks.
Thomas L. Jennings
In 1821, Thomas Jennings was the first African American to receive a patent for his discovery of a dry cleaning process called “dry scouring.” His patent was extraordinary because at that time, most African Americans were slaves and the patent laws didn’t allow slaves to patent their own inventions. However, although Jennings was Black, he was a freeman and able to gain sole rights to his invention and profit from it. He used the income earned from the patent to purchase relatives out of slavery and support abolitionist causes.
Dr. Patricia Bath
Dr. Bath was the first African American woman physician to receive a patent for a medical invention. In 1986, she discovered a new technique and invented a new device for cataract surgery, known as Laserphaco. In 1973, Bath had been the first woman to chair an ophthalmology residency program in the United States, and in 1983 she was the first woman ophthalmologist to be appointed to the faculty of the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine’s Jules Stein Eye Institute.
Born in 1957, Mark Dean is an accomplished engineer and computer scientist. He began working at IBM in 1980 and was instrumental in the development of the personal computer. Dean aided in the development of several technologies for IBM, including the first gigahertz chip and the color PC monitor. He holds three of the company’s original nine patents. Dean’s inventions have changed the way people work and communicate around the world.
Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson
Dr. Jackson is the first African American woman to have earned a doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her groundbreaking research enabled others to invent solar cells, fiber-optic cables, the portable fax, the touch-tone telephone, and the technology behind caller ID and call waiting. Jackson’s accomplishments also include chairing the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and cochairing President Obama’s President’s Intelligence Advisory Board.
Don’t wait until February to learn more about Black history—seize the opportunity anytime! Find more ways to celebrate with these educational online resources. Plus, share your favorite hero on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and use the hashtag #BlackHistoryMonth.