Black chemists have been contributing to advancements and developments in chemistry since the first chemists existed. We cannot forget that the first man and woman were chemists who worked with plants and substances to understand and to use their properties. Since the origins of man are believed to be in Africa, then Africa produced the first black chemists and chemists of any type.
The prehistorical discussion is important because it is now being accepted that indigenous, or oral and undocumented knowledge is critical to understanding the plants and materials of the world that biological prospectors are studying. These prospectors are finding that there is more to using a plant for new medicines and substances than just breaking it down into its chemical components. They are understanding that the indigenous people have knowledge that fills in the gaps between the physical substances and what has to be done with them in order to make them work.
Skipping forward to the scientific and industrial revolutions of the late 1800’s until recent history, we have many Black Scientists who are discussed below:
Norman Rillieux (1806-1894) was an American chemist who invented a multiple effect evaporator that used cane powered steam. He was denied his patent rights as a slave who was not considered to be a citizen.
Garrett Morgan (1877-1963) patented many inventions during the 1800s, including the first hair straightener and the precursor to the gas mask, and traffic signals. It must be noted that hair straighteners were used by women of all ethnicity’s who had curly hair.
George Washington Carver (1864-1943) was one of the most prolific inventors and scientists in American and world history. He was educated at Iowa State University and performed much of his research at Tuskegee University after becoming a professor in 1896 at the invitation of his colleague, Booker T. Washington.
Samuel Massie, Jr (1919-2005 ) In 1966, he the first Black Professor at the US Naval Academy. He held a master’s degree in chemistry and eventually chaired the Chemistry Department of the US Naval Academy.
Percy Julian (1899-1975) developed the first anti-glaucoma drug, physostigmine.
Marie Daly (1921-2003) was the first black woman to earn a PhD in chemistry. She was a college professor and researcher who made great efforts to recruit more black students to the chemistry field.
Mae Jemison, the first Black woman astronaut,(b. 1956) held a degree in chemistry from Stanford University and in medicine from Cornell University. She is a retired medical doctor and is still active in the sciences.
Patricia Bath, (b. 1942), was the inventor of the Laserphaco probe for removing cataracts. She is a medical doctor and ophthalmologist.
Dr. Betty Harris (b. ) is a Los Alamos Labs chemist who developed a spot test for identifying explosives in the field, receiving a patent for her invention. She is also noted for instituting a Girl Scouts chemistry badge that is the equivalent of the Boy Scouts chemistry badge.
In summary, there have been no shortage of Black chemists since the dawn of man and Black chemists reach out into the indefinite future, thanks to the efforts of many who now encourage study of chemistry.
Wikipedia, Black Chemists And Chemical Engineers”
Wikipedia, “George Washington Carver”
Women In Chemistry, “Marie Maynard Daly”
The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, “Samuel Proctor Massie Jr. (1919–2005)”
Black Inventor Online Museum, “Garrett Morgan”
Dr. Betty Harris