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Black History Month: Highlighting Contributions to STEM

February is Black History Month. Capitology Blog is celebrating the contributions of black people in America. In this post, we’re highlighting individuals and organizations that have contributed to various STEM fields.

Aerospace

Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) was founded in 1976 dedicated to “the encouragement and advancement of minorities in all aviation and aerospace careers.”

OBAP has contributed to the aerospace industry in a number of ways. With OBAP encouragement, the Air Force increased focus on recruiting minority pilots and the airline industry overhauled hiring practices to bring awareness to discrimination. OBAP also helped to create the Aerospace Career Education Academies to “to introduce, educate and guide diverse students towards careers in aerospace” reaching over 1,110 students nationwide.

Engineering

American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) honors black engineers that have contributed to the world of civil engineering. Among those highlighted are:

  • Alaska Highway Veterans: Established by Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Alaska Highway project was assigned to the Army Corps of Engineers. The project brought three black regiments together with four white regiments. Though working on the same project, the black regiments were only provided with hand tools. According to ASCE, “The Black Veterans Memorial Bridge, one of the veterans memorials along the highway, was dedicated in 1993 and stands as a monument to the engineers who not only completed a difficult task, but helped to pave the way for armed forces integration.”
  • Archie Alexander: The founder of the firm Alexander and Repass, Alexander was responsible for the construction of many of the roads and bridges in the DC area, including the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Tidal Basin Bridge.
  • Elijah McCoy: The son of fugitive slaves, McCoy held over 50 patents, including an automatic lubricator that enabled trains to run more efficiently, benefitting the rail industry. He was recognized by Booker T. Washington as having the most patents of any black inventor at that time. In 2012, the U.S. Patent Office dedicated a Detroit office in McCoy’s name.

Construction

The Building Safety Journal highlighted the contributions of enslaved blacks in the construction of the Capitol in Washington, DC.

“The majority of the work fell upon the laborers in the area, who were comprised mostly of African-American enslaved laborers, who were rented from their owners, were involved in almost every stage of construction and made significant contributions,” writes Tara Lukasik.

These laborers provided expertise in carpentry, bricklaying, ironworking, stone cutting, and quarrying. Philip Reid, an enslaved foundry laborer, provided significant contributions by figuring out how to assemble the Statue of Freedom for placement on top of the Capitol Dome. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Act, resulting in Reid being a free man by the time the statue was placed on the Dome.

In 2012, a marker was added to the building, fittingly in Emancipation Hall, noting the contribution of enslaved black workers to the building’s creation.

Computer Science

Tracy Williams highlights seven black contributors to the field of computer technology in a blog post for New Relic.

Among those highlighted are Katherine Johnson, whose life inspired the book and movie Hidden Figures. A physicist and mathematician, Johnson was instrumental to the success of the Apollo 11 mission. Others highlighted include:

  • Evelyn Boyd Granville, a mathematician who wrote software programs for IBM and also supported NASA’s Apollo program.
  • Roy Clay, Sr., a computer programmer who led HP in their efforts to develop the first HP computer.
  • Mark Dean, a computer scientist, who co-created IBM’s personal computer and contributed to the development of the first color monitor.
  • Kimberly Bryant, who founded Black Girls Code, was named by Business Insider as one of the 15 most influential African-Americans in technology.

Keep checking in to Capitology Blog for most posts about Black History Month!