African American Inventors Study

6, 7, 8

Youth learn about the work of African American inventors who had a positive influence on society by contributing scientific innovation for the common good.

PrintOne 45-Minute Session

The learner will:

  • research an African American inventor.
  • reflect on the invention's impact on self and society.
  • a light bulb
Bibliography "8 Black Inventors Who Made Daily Life Easier"


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Hold up a lightbulb and ask who invented the lightbulb. They will know about Thomas Edison, but Lewis Howard Latimer, a Black man, has patents on key parts and improvements. Read about Lewis Howard Latimer, who worked for Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and Hirim Maxim.

    Between the mid 1800s and early 1900s, over a thousand inventions were patented by African American inventors. Many more were unidentified because they hid their race to avoid discrimination, while others sold their inventions to white men.

  2. The recent book and movie Hidden Figures tells the story of the critical work of Black women who worked behind the scenes at NASA.

    Tell the young people they are going to read and share what they learned about African American inventors who have impacted their lives and society for the common good. Let them select who they want to research, and they may work in pairs or alone. They can include the following information in their summary: who, dates, where they worked, inventions or areas of work, impact on society, and role of racism on their work. 

  3. Allow time for research, summarizing, and preparing to present. Then give each individual or pair about 2-3 minutes to report out and answer questions. 

  4. Assign the completion of the research and the worksheet.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Define philanthropy as individuals and organizations providing their time, talent, and/or treasures intended for the common good throughout history and around the world. Give examples.
      2. Benchmark MS.4 Give examples of how individuals have helped others.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Describe the characteristics of someone who helps others.
    2. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Describe the importance of hearing all voices in a community and respecting their right to be heard.
      2. Benchmark MS.3 Give an example of how philanthropy can transcend cultures.
      3. Benchmark MS.5 Discuss examples of groups denied their rights in history.
    3. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark MS.12 Identify the dilemma of minority rights in a pure democracy.
      2. Benchmark MS.3 Identify the relationship between individual rights and community responsibilities.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.4 Give an example of how citizens act for the common good.
      2. Benchmark MS.4 Identify and describe the actions of how citizens act for the common good.