Celebrating African American Scientists and Inventors
Diversity of thought has always been a cornerstone of science; however, diversity amongst scientists has often gone unnoticed. African American chemists, biologists, inventors, engineers, and mathematicians have contributed in both large and small ways when chronicling the history of science. By describing the scientific history of selected African American men and women, we can see how the efforts of individuals have advanced human understanding in the world around us.
America's first recognized black scientist, Benjamin Banneker was a mostly self-taught mathematician and astronomer who spent his life in an enthusiastic quest for knowledge. He is famous for publishing astronomical almanacs and ephemerides. Very popular in the 18th century, these almanacs included astronomical data for each day of a given year. In addition to his scientific work, Banneker raised tobacco, played the violin and flute, worked as a surveyor, and built mechanical artifacts. His world view, it seems, successfully integrated a traditional Christian spirituality and a modern scientist's openness to the world. Banneker was acutely aware of the deep injustice of American slavery, and worked hard to discredit the belief, supported by intellectuals such as Thomas Jefferson, that the people of African descent was intellectually deficient.
George Washington Carver
George Washington Carver was an agricultural chemist who gained acclaim for his discovery of alternative farming methods. A widely talented man who was born into slavery and orphaned in infancy, Carver became an almost mythical American folk hero. He was a faculty member at the all-black Tuskegee Institute, where he worked to improve the lives of impoverished local farmers. Carver is best known for his discovery of uses for the peanut. His testimony in 1921 before the House Ways and Means Committee in support of a tariff to protect the U.S. peanut industry helped earn him the nickname the "peanut wizard."
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