The African Americans

Search for Truth and Knowledge

By Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Jr.

Part Thirty-Two: Transformers of Industry

Black Brainpower and Muscle Power Helped Build America

Just as Norbert Rillieux's invention of the evaporator-pan improved sugar cane refining and transformed the sugar industry in the United States, the Caribbean Islands and Latin America in the pre-Civil War period, several African American inventors transformed key industries in the United States in the post Civil War period. Most of these great men are unknown to us. They are the "Hidden Contributors" to the greatness of America.

The crisis of the Civil War and the rebuilding during Reconstruction helped to lay the foundations of industrial and technological growth in the United States. Out of this period came individuals whose skills and ambition and good fortune led them to become so-called "captains of industry" and corporate giants. Some of these men are legends and their corporate empires still exert great influence in the nation's and world's development. The symbol of these individuals was John D. Rockefeller who organized Standard Oil in 1868 and became a prototype of ruthless corporate competition. Other "captains of industry" and corporate giants included J.P. Morgan and Jay Gould who controlled banking and manufacturing interests in interlocking directories and integrated corporate systems. These men were able to dominate and control whole industries and integrate various industries into corporate empires. Other individuals dominated their fields and built giant corporate structures.

One of the most famous of these men was Thomas Alva Edison whose inventions grew into the General Electric Corporation. Another inventor whose name became a household word was Alexander Graham Bell whose discovery of the telephone laid the foundation for the new communications industry. Hiram Maxim was not as famous as Alexander Graham Bell, yet his influence in the several fields of industry was very significant—including electricity and munitions.

Very few people realize the role African Americans played in assisting these famous corporate giants and captains of industry. The untold story of the "Hidden African American Contributors" is a tribute to the genius of these men and the undying human spirit to achieve even against enormous obstacles. It is also a sad story because it reveals the constant patterns and practices of discrimination and racism that limited and destroyed individuals and groups. As a result of the limitations of racism in the United States, none of the outstanding African American contributors to America's greatness was able to truly benefit and enrich himself and his people. Their ingenious inventions and discoveries were either stolen, bought off or legally maneuvered from them by industrial wars and patent fights. They did not have the opportunity to turn their inventions into corporate enterprises that would have permanent impact on America. They had to work for others, or if they had their own business, they were bought out or squeezed out. African Americans were systematically eliminated from America's industrial development and were not allowed to get a substantial economic foundation in American society.  

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