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    5 Black Inventors, Educators and Innovators You Should Know

    5 Black Inventors, Educators and Innovators You Should Know

    Every year, throughout February, we celebrate Black History Month in North America, and in many countries around the world. But did you ever wonder exactly how this month-long tradition began? This article will share some insights into the interesting backstory of Black History Month. Then, read on to learn more about black technology inventors and educators whose work has impacted the lives we lead today. 

    The History Of Black History Month

    The African American historian Carter G. Woodson is credited with establishing the event that eventually evolved into Black History Month. Feeling compelled to honor the accomplishments and achievements of black Americans, he proposed what became the Negro History Week in 1926. 

    Here are a few interesting facts:

    • The first black history celebrations were in 1924 and were known as Negro History and Literature week.

    • The second week of February was chosen for Negro History Week to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

    • Black History Month was officially recognized by President Gerald Ford in 1976.

    • Today, Black History Month is celebrated in October, in countries like the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Ireland.


    As a software company that supports K12 schools, we live and breathe technology development and all things education. For Black History Month, we want to help raise the visibility of unsung contributors to U.S. and world history. We are called Rise Vision, after all! ;)

    To help you with your research, we’ve broken down the names, notable contributions and some helpful links for you to further your research on these amazing inventors and educators.

    Here are 5 black inventors and educators you may not have known:


    Elija McCoy inventor black history month

    The Real McCoy

    Name: Elijah McCoy (1844 - 1929)

    Notable ContributionAutomatic lubricator for steam engines; held over 50 patents

    Have you ever heard the expression “the real McCoy”? Although sometimes disputed, it is believed that this expression - meaning the real thing - is attributable to Elijah McCoy. He was a Canadian-born engineer and inventor who relocated to the United States with his family in 1859. It was there that he developed and patented an automatic lubrication device that allowed trains and ships to travel farther and faster. It made transport more profitable by reducing the need to stop for oiling and maintenance. By several accounts, his oil-drip cup invention was so sought after that many tried to copy it. But savvy railroad engineers insisted on only having “the Real McCoy”.

    Learn More about Elijah McCoy:

    Celebrate Black History Month with 10 FREE posters including Elijah McCoy

    and other notable black history contributors.

    Download Free Black History Month Posters

    Lisa Gelobter innovator black history month

    The Godmother of GIFs

    Name: Lisa Gelobter (1971 - )

    Notable Contribution: Developed the foundation of GIF animations 

    It’s hard to imagine the internet we know today, without the GIFs and videos we share and enjoy on a daily basis. In spite of the hot debate around pronunciation (we go with "hard G" here at Rise), we have this technology innovator to thank for making our communications a little bit more fun and interesting. 

    The genesis of the GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) was actually in the foundational animation work of Lisa Gelobter. Her academic background as a computer scientist prepared her for a storied career where she contributed to developing popular technologies in the gaming and online video space (Shockwave; Hulu). Lisa served as Chief Digital Services Officer of the U.S. Department of Education under the Obama administration. Today, she continues in technology innovation and is the co-founder of tEQuitable - a software solution for reporting incidents of bias, that aims to make workplaces more equitable.

    Learn More about Lisa Gelobter:


    Fanny Jackson Coppin educator black history month

    The Pioneering Principal

    Name: Fanny Jackson Coppin (1837 - 1913)

    Notable Contribution: The first African American principal and superintendent

    Being first sets a precedent, blazes a trail and inspires possibility for those who come after. Fanny Jackson Coppin overcame enormous challenges, escaping slavery at 12 years old and committing her life to education. In 1869, she became the first African American principal and an advocate for higher education for women. She was known for many innovations in education including a system for practice-teaching.

    Before she died at the age of 76, Fanny captured details of her extraordinary life in her autobiography titled Reminiscences of School Life and Hints on Teaching. She recounts her passion for teaching and the details of her journey that led to her becoming promoted to the role of Superintendent by the board of education. This made her the first African American superintendent of a school district in the United States.

    Learn More about Fanny Jackson Coppin:


    Philip Emeagwali inventor black history month

    The Father of the Internet

    Name: Philip Emeagwali (1954 - )

    Notable Contribution: Invented the foundations of the modern supercomputer

    This inventor is credited with inventing the world’s first supercomputer, capable of making 3.1 billion calculations per second. Born in Nigeria, Philip Emeagwali was forced to leave school at 14 years old because his family was unable to afford school fees. His father homeschooled him in mathematics and he spent his time in the local library reading and studying relentlessly. Eventually, through his diligent efforts, he earned a scholarship to Oregon State University and moved to the US in 1974.

    It was during his academic career that Philip was inspired by honeycombs as a model of how computers could communicate more efficiently. His discoveries were a major breakthrough and created the fastest, most efficient computer processing at the time. His work laid the foundations for the internet as we know it today. Time Magazine called him the “unsung hero” of the internet and he has received high acclaim and recognition in the world of computer science. In 1989, he received the Gordon Bell Prize - known as the Nobel Prize for supercomputing. It's easy to see why CNN dubbed him as one of "The Fathers of the Internet". 

    Learn More about Philip Emeagwali:


    Garret Morgan inventor black history month

    The Grandfather of the Gas Mask

    Name: Garret Morgan (1877 - 1963)

    Notable Contribution: Inventor of the first gas mask

    Garret Morgan is an African American inventor best known for his contributions to creating the three-signal traffic light. But did you know that he was also the inventor of the very first gas mask? His innovation - originally called a smoke hood - created a blueprint for the development and evolution of the gas mask. Garret’s design received a patent in 1914 but his idea was not immediately well received. However, it eventually became more widely accepted through his creative marketing efforts. His “safety hood” was used in 1916 in the rescue of miners trapped in a tunnel explosion in Cleveland.

    Garret was also a businessman and a community leader, creating a line of commercial hair products among other ventures. He held several patents and made important financial and social contributions in community activism to advance the needs of African Americans.

    Learn More about Garret Morgan:

    Celebrate Black History Month. Get 10 free posters featuring Garret Morgan

    and other notable black history contributors.

    Download Free Black History Month Posters


    These are just a few of the many unsung black inventors, educators and innovators whose contributions have shaped our world. Whether leading the way, making breakthrough discoveries or finding creative solutions to problems, their impact on our lives is immeasurable.

    It's always a great time to learn something new and share interesting information. You can use your digital signage to build an awareness and start great conversations throughout February and all year long.


    Additional Black History Month Resources for Schools

    10 Free Posters for Black History Month