The Shades Of Greatness Story

The idea for Shades of Greatness actually began in 1995. Rita L. Hubbard, a former city school teacher, won a $1,000 grant to visit the National Archives in Washington, DC. Although she was allowed to study anything she wanted, Hubbard was soon lured into the half-hidden world of her heritage: African Americans, their achievements, their disappointments, and their inventions.

Hubbard made contacts with Archive personnel, and soon compiled a list of early African American inventors. The more she learned about who really invented the tools, ideas and gadgets that advanced our American society to the greatness it enjoys today, the more determined she was to make sure that every American had the opportunity to learn about our contributions.

The Myth About American Inventions

There was a time in American history, not so long ago, when African Americans were believed to be an “inferior” race. They were believed to be incapable of learning, and if they demonstrated any inkling of intelligence or skill with their hands, they were believed to have accomplished these fetes by imitating white people.

Accordingly, the United States Patent and Trademark office was in the habit of methodically denying patents to African Americans. This denial might come about for many reasons: From being assessed as being only 1/3 of a human being, to not being considered American citizens because they were no more than chattel.

Because of these injustices, many African Americans who applied for patents in the early years did so under pseudonyms or complete anonymity. They knew that if they revealed their identities, they might be denied the right to patent their inventions. If they were allowed to patent them, they knew that sales of their inventions would slow drastically or completely shut down once Americans knew that a “mind of color” had invented the item they were spending their money on.

It took the dedicated and fearless efforts of one Henry Baker to learn the names of those few African Americans we are aware of as being inventors of early popular gadgets. Henry sent questionnaires out all over the nation, asking patent attorneys, newspaper editors, etc. to tell him of any and all African Americans that they knew had invented some gadget, or who had come to them for assistance in patenting their inventions.

Despite some very withering replies—including a reply from a lawyer in Chattanooga, Tennessee who stated that he had never heard of a colored inventor, and he never expected to hear of one—Baker learned of approximately 800 African American inventors, and he shared what he had learned with the world.

Now I am sharing these names with you.
—  Rita L. Hubbard
President, Get-It-In-Writing Press

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