Black History Month is always a beautiful (albeit too short) celebration of Black excellence across the diaspora throughout the years. And let’s be honest, there’s a host of things that wouldn’t exist without Black women, including much of today’s modern-day entertainment.
Black women, like Dr. Shirley Jackson, invented technologies that changed communication, and as a result, enhanced the way we are entertained, whether watching a basketball game on TV, streaming a movie on Hulu, or throwing a party via Zoom.
Without further ado, tip your hat to these four Black women inventors who laid the groundwork for modern-day technology.
Before we honor the women who are responsible for modern-day entertainment, we must salute Martha Jones from Amelia County, VA. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Jones became the first Black woman to be granted a U.S. patent in May 1868. Although her invention, a cornhusker, is unrelated to entertainment, we can assume her obstacles to obtaining a patent allowed other Black women to follow suit.
The next time you’re watching your TV screen or enjoying the latest blockbuster in 3D, thank physicist, inventor, and NASA data analyst Valerie Thomas. In 1980, the Maryland native patented the illusion transmitter which developed from her experiments with concave mirrors. Not only does NASA still use her tech, but her invention is also the foundation for many advanced TV screens.
There’s no debate that Zoom calls have monopolized how we connect to one another today — virtual birthday parties, game nights, and of course business meetings. Likewise, we have adopted FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and Skype into our lives seamlessly in the same ways. However, these mediums of communication and entertainment wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for engineer Marian Croak. The Vice President of Engineering at Google developed Voice over Internet Protocol, commonly known as VoIP, when she worked for AT&T in the ’80s, making it possible for us to make calls over the internet. According to the Intellectual Property Owners Education Foundation, Croak also holds a patent for the technology that allows text-based donation and text voting systems like the ones used for “American Idol.”
GIFs help drive Black Twitter. They literally add a little razzle-dazzle to every joke, reaction, and any other online exchange. For that, we can thank Lisa Gelobter. She is a computer scientist, CEO of tEQuitable, and inarguably a pioneer in modern-day entertainment. A graduate of Brown University, she programmed the early animation used to produce GIFs. However, her work in internet technologies surpasses far beyond the pop culture trend. She has developed Shockwave and launched Hulu, one of the leading on-demand streaming services.