15 of the Most Influential Black Men and Women in Science and Technology

February is Black History Month, a month dedicated to paying tribute to and celebrating the generations of African American men and women throughout history. Black History Month was first proposed by black educators at Kent University in February 1969. Six years later, Black History Month was being celebrated across the nation by educational institutions and communities big and small. in 1976, President Gerald Ford was quoted as urging Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

As a 24/7 live call center service, SAS is dedicated to learning about and acknowledging the brilliant minds responsible for creating the call center technology we use every day. Celebrate this important month with us by taking a look at 15 of the most influential black men and women in the science and technology fields, and how their hard work, ideas and ambition led to many of the technological advances we utilize today.

Lewis Latimer | Telephone Pioneer

  • Born: September 4, 1848
  • Died: December 11, 1928
  • Why we Love Him: He holds the patent for the first telephone, something we use in the call center every day.

Lewis Latimer
When you think of the invention of the telephone, most people immediately think of Alexander Graham Bell. While Bell is credited with patenting the first practical telephone, Lewis Latimer was actually the one to draft the necessary drawings required for the patent. At the time, Latimer was employed by Bell as a draftsman at Bell’s patent law firm.

Lewis Latimer went on to work alongside Thomas Edison and helped develop multiple patents including an electric lamp, a safety elevator, and an early model of an air conditioner. Though Latimer passed away in 1928, his contributions to the field of science and technology are still widely acknowledged and celebrated today.

James Edward West | Developed Microphone Technology

  • Born: February 10, 1931
  • Why we Love Him: He developed the microphone technology still found in phones and headsets.

James Edward West
James Edward West is an American inventor who specialized in acoustics. He holds over 250 patents and is widely known as creating the foil electret microphone, which is a type of electrostatic capacitor-based microphone. This type of microphone eliminates the need for a polarizing power supply by using a permanently charged material. Today, more than 90% of all microphones used are based on the principles of the foil-electret and can be found in items like telephones, hearing aids and baby monitors.

In addition to his multiple contributions in the field of science and technology, James Edward West has been an advocate for diversity in the field, and has founded the Association of Black Laboratory Employees, which addresses the placement and promotional concerns of Black Bell Laboratories employees. At 91 years old, James is still alive and enjoying retirement.

Henry Sampson | Invented the Gamma-Electric Cell

  • Born: April 22, 1934
  • Died: June 4, 2015
  • Why we Love Him: He was a pioneer in the technology now used in cell phones.

Henry Sampson
Henry Sampson was a nuclear physicist most widely known for inventing the Gamma-Electric cell in the 1970s, which allowed the  wireless sending and receiving of audio signals through radio waves. Sampson was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering in the United States.

Aside from his accomplishments in the world of physics, Henry Sampson was also a writer and film historian who wrote several books focusing on the history of black filmmakers and performers. Henry won many awards throughout his career, including the Black Image Award from Aerospace Corporation, the Blacks in Engineering, and the Applied Science Award. Henry passed away on June 4, 2015.

Valerie Thomas | Helped Develop the First Satellite to Send Images to Earth

  • Born: February 8, 1943
  • Why we Love Her: The technology she helped create is used in various telecommunication devices.

Valerie Thomas
Valerie Thomas is an American scientist and inventor. Growing up, Thomas was fascinated by technology but was not encouraged to pursue the study due to her gender and ethnicity.  However, after high school, Thomas attended Morgan State University where she was one of only two women to major in physics.

After finishing her degree, Valerie Thomas worked at NASA from 1964 to 1995. She conducted many large-scale experiments, developed computer data systems, and most notably, spearheaded the development of the first satellite to send images to Earth from space. She’s also accredited with creating the technology that has since been adapted for use in surgery as well as the production of television and video screens. After her retirement, Thomas worked to mentor youths through the National Technical Association and Science Mathematics Aerospace Research and Technology, Inc.

Jesse E. Russell | Helped Create the Modern Day Cell Phone

  • Born: April 26, 1948
  • Why we Love Him: He helped us be able to communicate from anywhere, without wires.

Jesse E. Russell
Jesse E. Russell is an American inventor, electrical engineer and business executive. After he graduated  with his Masters Degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University, Russell continued his work at Bell Laboratories as a pioneer in the field of cellular and wireless communications.

Russell helped create the field of digital cellular communications in the 1980s through the use of high-power linear amplification and low bit-rate voice encoding technologies, and played a fundamental role in the invention of the modern cell phone. Russell has over 100 patents, including a wireless communication base station and a mobile data telephone.

Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson | Invented Technology Used in Caller ID

Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson
Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson is an American physicist.  From a young age, her interest in science was encouraged by her parents. Her mother would read the biography of Benjamin Banneker, an African American scientist and mathematician, with her, while her father helped with school projects.  After excelling in primary school, Jackson was among the first African American students to attend MIT, where she later earned her PhD in  theoretical physics.

After graduating, Dr. Jackson began working for Bell Labs and conducted the research that led to inventions such as fiber optic cables, touch tone telephones and caller ID. In 1998, Jackson was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and became the 18th president of  Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute the following year.

#7. Marian Croak | Created VoIP Technology

  • Born: 1955
  • Why we Love Her: VoIP Technology is essential to call center operations and call routing.

Marian Croak
Marian Croak is an American engineer. While working for Bell Labs in 1982, she advocated for switching from wired phone technology to internet protocol, which has helped transform audio and video conferencing abilities. Today, she is accredited with over 200 U.S. patents mostly related to Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems.

In 2013, she was inducted into the Women in Technology’s International hall of fame. Croak is the current Vice President of Engineering at Google and she serves on the board of directors of the Centre for Holocausts, Human Rights & Genocide Education.

Katherine Johnson | Calculated the Flight Path for the First NASA Mission to Space

  • Born: August 26, 1918
  • Died: February 24, 2020
  • Why we Love Her: Her ability to be a “human computer” has inspired many generations of programmers and developers.

Katherine Johnson
If you’ve read or seen the movie Hidden Figures, you’re familiar with Katherine Johnson. Katherine Johnson was an American mathematician who is famous for calculating the flight path for the first NASA mission to space. From a young age, Katherine excelled at mathematics and was able to graduate high school when she was 14 years old. At 18 she graduated college summa cum laude with degrees in both mathematics and French. From 1953 to 1958, Johnson worked for Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory as a “human computer” analyzing topics such as gust alleviation for aircraft.

At age 97, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor. Sadly, Johnson passed away on February 24th, 2020. She was 101 years old.

Clarence Ellis | Helped Create the First Virtual Office

  • Born: May 11, 1943
  • Died: May 17, 2014
  • Why we Love Him: Without the ability to work from anywhere, thousands of businesses may have had to close their doors over COVID.

Clarence Edwards
Clarence “Skip” Ellis was the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in computer science. While studying mathematics and physics at Beloit College, Ellis helped set up the school’s first computer laboratory, where he spent many hours developing his love of computer science.

After college, Ellis worked at Bell Labs for a few years before becoming an assistant professor and a founding member of the computer science department at the University of Colorado Boulder. Later, he accepted a job at Stanford University where he headed the Office Research Group, helping to develop the first office system which used icons and Ethernet for collaborating at a distance. This type of technology has allowed millions of people to effectively work from home, which is so important considering the current climate due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Unfortunately, Ellis passed away on May 17th, 2014.

Kimberly Bryant | Founded the Black Girls CODE

  • Born: January 14, 1967
  • Why we Love Her: She’s encouraging more young women to enter the field of science and technology.

Kimberly Bryant
Kimberly Bryant is an African American electrical engineer who worked for a chemical manufacturing company before transitioning into consumer products. After moving to the Bay Area in the early 2000s, she noticed a “2.0 web blossoming” with the introduction of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which encouraged her to get into the tech field.

In 2011 Kimberly Bryant  founded Black Girls CODE, a non-profit  program dedicated to teaching computer programming to girls of color. Bryant says at first Black Girls CODE was not on her radar, but after putting her daughter in computer science classes and noticing how there were never any other girls in class, she realized there needed to be better representation for young women within the computer science field.

Granville Woods | Invented the Induction Telegraph

  • Born: April 23, 1856
  • Died: January 30, 1910
  • Why we Love Him: Without his inventions, telephone communications may have never evolved.

Granville Woods
Granville Woods, also known as the “Black Edison” was an American inventor who held over 50 U.S. patents focusing mainly on telephones, trains and streetcars. After the Civil War, Woods became known as the first African American mechanical and electrical engineer.

Woods is credited with inventing the Induction Telegraph, which was a telephone-telegraph hybrid that allowed people to speak over telegraph wire. Granville Woods passed away on January 30, 1910, but remains a household name among scientists today. In 2006, Woods was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Marc Jones | Helps Improve Businesses through the Internet of Things (IoT)

  • Why we Love Him: Connected devices make our lives so much easier.

Marc Jones
Marc Jones is Chairman, President & CEO of Aeris Communications, a company which focuses on IoT (Internet of Things) connectivity solutions that has helped power some of the world’s largest companies. Marc grew up in Chicago but eventually moved out west to earn a law degree at Stanford University.

He is widely known for his deep commitment to the non-profit sector and sits on many boards, including The Board of Trustees for Stanford University, The Board of the California Health Care Foundation and The Board of Directors for Working Partnerships USA.

George Robert Carruthers | Invented an Ultra-Violet Camera

  • Born: October 1, 1939
  • Died: December 26, 2020
  • Why we Love Him: Without having the ability to capture ultra-violet images, our knowledge about Space would be non-existent.

George Robert Carruthers
George Robert Carruthers was an African American astrophysicist who spent many years working at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC, focusing on ultraviolet astronomy.  Over the years he made many contributions that would  benefit the space program, including the invention of his ultraviolet camera, or spectrograph, that helped uncover the mysteries of space and the Earth’s atmosphere.

In 1969, Carruthers was given credit for inventing the “Image Converter” which is an instrument that detects electromagnetic radiation in short wave lengths . In 1970, his invention recorded the first observation of molecular hydrogen in outer space and In 1972, he invented the first moon-based observatory. Carruthers recently passed away on December 26, 2020.

Mary Jackson | The First African American Female Engineer to Work at NASA

  • Born: April 9, 1921
  • Died: February 11, 2005
  • Why we Love Her: Her work inspired thousands of women to pursue a career in mathematics and engineering.

Mary Jackson
Another woman showcased in the movie Hidden Figures, Mary Jackson was an American mathematicians and aerospace engineer who in 1958 became the first African American female engineer to work at NASA.

Jackson worked as an aerospace engineer for 20 years, but after being denied management-level positions, she took a demotion and became  Langley’s Federal Women’s Program Manager. In that position, she worked to improve the opportunities for all women within NASA’s organization. Mary Jackson passed away on February 11th, 2005, but her legacy lives on in young women everywhere.

Philip Emeagwali | Helped Create High-Performance Computing Applications

  • Born: August 23, 1954
  • Why we Love Him: Without high-performance computing applications, call centers wouldn’t be able to run reports that can help predict potential elongated queue times.

Philip Emeagwali
Philip Emeagwali is a Nigerian American immigrant who came to the United States to attend university.  While working towards his doctorate at the University of Michigan, Emeagwali began a project that used supercomputers to identify underground oil reserves. Eventually, he figured out that using thousands of microprocessors would be more efficient than using multiple supercomputers and successfully programmed a machine that ran over 3 billion calculations per second.

When asked about his breakthrough, Emeagwali recalled how he used to observe bees in nature, and recognized that their way of communicating and working together was fundamentally more efficient than trying to accomplish tasks separately. In 1989 Philip Emeagwali won the Gordon Bell Prize for price-performance in high-performance computing applications, and is still alive today.
















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