Many discoveries and inventions by Afro-Americans have not and will not ever be recognized for a variety of racially motivated reasons. One is that because it was against the law for the Enslaved to learn to read, write, or count, they could not record their accomplishments. Nor were they aware of patents–or, if so, how to go about getting one. A second is that they were not allowed to own anything, to contract with the government, or to take credit for their inventions. Negroes managing to break through these barriers were still typically not named, misnamed, or given fleeting and insignificant credit in history. Other great works were not marketed. Third, over 99.9% were wrongly assigned to their White slave owners and they shamelessly received and accepted the credit. For example, Matthew Henson (1866-1958), discovered the North Pole in 1909 but his White associate, Robert Peary, was given the credit. Fourth, historically it has been a routine practice for White people to steal what belongs to Black People and then ignore the issue or falsely accuse those Blacks of trying to claim the credit. An example was an Enslaves’ invention of the cotton gin. The background is the late C18 Industrial Revolution in England which created a demand for more raw cotton from the southern states, and efforts were bent to meet this demand. One of the chief bottlenecks in the production of cotton was the difficulty of separating the seed from the lint. During the colonial period this operation had been done painstakingly by Enslaved hands. Then appeared upon the scene a Connecticut schoolteacher, Eli Whitney, who went South for his health and wound up on the Georgia plantation of General Greene’s widow. As is invariable in White people’s dishonorable recitation of Black History, the false version of White historians is that Eli watched the Enslaved laboriously picking cotton seeds from the tightly attached fiber. He began a series of experiments to speed up the process and in 1793 succeeded in constructing a machine which became known as a cotton gin. The truth–as determined from my own research and independently from what I was told in my 1940s Black communities of Wilson and Greensboro, North Carolina–was that Eli watched an Enslaved pull cotton through the nails that penetrated a board. It worked so well that Eli modified it and patented it. Fifth, accurate statistics as to the numbers of Black People’s Inventions are not available since, early on, the United States patent office made no distinction as to race in recording patents.
However, on the occasion of the Paris Exposition of 1900, and of the 1913 Emancipation Exposition at Philadelphia, the patent office sent out several thousand letters to manufacturers, patent lawyers, newspapers, etc., requesting them to inform the Commissioner of Patents relative to authentic cases of inventions by Negroes. The replies showed many Negroes had given up attempts to get patents because of lack of funds, although others had secured them. In some cases lawyers had secured patents for Negroes who did not care to have their racial identity known because of fear of an adverse response to their inventions. Nevertheless, more than a thousand authentic cases, covering a wide variety of inventions, were secured. Benjamin Montgomery (1819-1877) designed a steam operated propeller to provide propulsion to boats in shallow water. This made it easier for ships to travel around the shallow water on the plantation of Joseph Davis, brother of confederate president Jefferson Davis. Both Joseph and Jefferson tried to steal Mr. Montgomery’s patent. When they were unsuccessful, Jefferson Davis, who was a senator, changed the law to make it easy for the slave owner to take the patent of the enslaved. In personal experiences, one of my inventions during my Orthopaedic Surgery residency was a dynamic heel cord stretching brace for cerebral palsy, which was immediately stolen by the brace maker and then published by him under his name.
At another institution, I discovered why Dwarfs (the Little People, as some are seen in the circus) had four limb weakness (because of an underdeveloped keystone neck bone) and why they would die suddenly when put under general anesthesia during an operation. Both of these were stolen by “higher authorities” and claimed as their own. My most famous invention, an ankle/foot sling for Spastic adult club foot (a surgical operation) was stolen by a Journal reviewer of my case report who rejected my paper and then published my identical figures on the operation 9 months later. It became world famous.