In the 1950s, the decade in which Motion System Design was first published, our inaugural issues were what some might call “plain vanilla.” Paging through these early volumes, one finds a regular column titled Men of Power Transmission. Not surprisingly, only white men are featured. Fast-forward to 2010 and we find ourselves in a global economy in which the U.S. needs every technically capable mind to remain competitive. Last February, we highlighted the increasing role of women in technical fields. This year, in honor of Black History Month, we pay tribute to African American men and women who have added to the rich technological fabric of our country.
A new book helps us to honor these innovators. Unheralded but Unbowed: Black Scientists & Engineers who Changed the World by Garland L. Thompson traces the history of blacks in scientific achievement, and details a long line of accomplishments too often overlooked. The book aims “to gather the seemingly disparate threads of black progress in science and technology and the ongoing fight for equal rights and opportunity in American society into a single story,” says Thompson.
Selected profiles include Blue Angels pilot Donnie Cochran, NASA astronaut Guy Bluford, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute president Dr. Shirley Jackson, among others in engineering and science who are less famous. Dr. Bluford and Dr. Jackson each won the top award at the annual Black Engineer of the Year Awards, presented every February since 1987 in Baltimore. Dr. Bluford, the first black astronaut to fly on the Space Shuttle, was the fifth recipient to earn this top honor. Dr. Jackson, the first African American to serve on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), made history as the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. (Physics) at MIT. She worked for AT&T Bell Labs, and after moving to the NRC, rose to become the first black to head the agency. In 2001, when she was named Black Engineer of the Year, Dr. Jackson was the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y., where she continues to lead.