Sarah Goode was born into slavery, but went on to become the first African-American woman to receive a U.S. patent, issued on July 14, 1885 for a folding cabinet bed. The entrepreneur, who was freed after the Civil War, invented the bed for people who lived in small apartments near her Chicago home, and sold her creation at a furniture store she owned there.
Thomas Jennings, the first African-American to receive a U.S. patent, invented the
dry-cleaning process. He operated a dry-cleaning business in New York City and is said to have donated most of his business profits to the movement to abolish slavery.
Madam C.J. Walker (Sarah Breedlove) was born to parents who had gained their freedom from slavery only to pass away a short while later from a deadly fever. Sarah became an orphan at 7 years of age and by 20 years of age she was a widow and single mother. Having struggled with dry scalp and hair, and seeking a better life for herself and her daughter, she invented hair care products and sold them to other African-American women. Eventually she was able to create a thriving national corporation that employed 3,000 or more people — primarily African-American women whom she taught the principles of entrepreneurship and marketing so they too could become financially stable. Her company went on to develop other hair and beauty products and equipment that were used by white women as well. Madam Walker became so wealthy that some of the world’s richest men in history were her neighbors. Among them was oil billionaire (in today’s
dollars), industrialist, and Spelman benefactor, John D. Rockefeller, who invested
so substantially in the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary three years after it was established that its name was changed to Spelman Seminary (now Spelman College) in honor of his wife, Laura Spelman.
It is inspiring to consider such richness and ingenuity among African-Americans. These few examples of many hundreds of black innovators and trendsetters are a clear demonstration that all of us are capable of making incredible contributions that carry our country, communities, families and fortunes forward.
Felicia Joy is a nationally recognized entrepreneur who created $50 million in value for the various organizations and companies she served in corporate America before launching her business enterprise. She is the author of Hybrid Entrepreneurship: How the Middle Class Can Beat the Slow Economy, Earn Extra Income and Reclaim the American Dream and a regular contributor on CNN. Follow her @feliciajoy.