This Black History Month, we’re tracing back through the past to celebrate a few of the Black men and women who have contributed to defining the transportation industry we all know and love. Of course there are SO MANY names that deserve to be recognized here, but we hope you’ll enjoy this quick tour through a couple of our favorites …
GARRETT AUGUSTUS MORGAN
If you’ve ever driven safely through an intersection, or crossed the street without fear, you have Garrett Augustus Morgan to thank. In addition to owning a tailoring business, establishing a successful newspaper, and designing a gas mask that was used in WWI, in 1923 Morgan patented the first traffic signal after witnessing the death of a young girl in a collision between an automobile and a horse-drawn carriage. It consisted of a manually-operated T-shaped pole unit that featured three positions: Stop, Go and one that halted traffic in all directions for pedestrians to cross streets more safely. His invention was in use throughout the entire country until the units were eventually upgraded to automatic models.
Popularly known as Queen Bess and Brave Bessie, Coleman was the first Black woman to have a pilot’s license. After developing an early interest in flying, but with no nearby opportunities to explore her passion, she saved money and earned scholarships to attend flight school in France. Bessie received her license on June 15, 1921 (meaning we’ll celebrate the 100-year anniversary of her accomplishment this summer!) She became a notoriously bold stunt pilot and media sensation, known for never compromising her principles. She never realized her dream of opening a young Black aviator flight school, but was an inspiration for many during her life, and today.
MCKINLEY THOMPSON JR
Hired by the Ford Motor Company when he was 34 years old, Brooklyn-born Thompson became the first Black designer for a major automobile manufacturer in 1956. He had his hand in the design production of the Bronco, Mustang, Thunderbird and GT40 – vehicles that had a transformative impact on the automotive industry, as well as popular culture. Thompson developed an early love of automobiles as a child after seeing a 1934 Chrysler DeSoto Airflow on the street, and carried that passion through the entirety of his career. Many consider him to be one of the unsung heroes of his time.
In her early 20’s, Wallace became the first female bus driver for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). Getting the job wasn’t easy in the male-dominated field, but she was adamant about being qualified for the position and shattered existing gender norms when she was finally given her own route in 1974. She worked for the CTA for the next 33 years, collecting friends, stories and accolades along the way. Now retired, she continues to be celebrated for advancing opportunities for both women and members of the Black community.