The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn highlights Black innovators, trailblazers

Dr. George Washington Carver
Posted at 1:05 PM, Feb 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-07 18:37:30-05

DEARBORN, Mich. (WXYZ) — From agriculture to the automotive industry, Black Americans made significant contributions while overcoming overwhelming obstacles.

The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn highlights trailblazers and innovators who made significant contributions and opened doors for those who followed.

The Montgomery, Alabama bus where Rosa Parks took a stand by refusing to stand in 1955 is on display. The year-long boycott that followed demanded equal seating and equal employment opportunities. At that time Black men and women were not allowed to be bus drivers.

In this April 26, 1956, file photo, a bus driver is all alone as his empty bus moves through downtown Montgomery, Ala, as a boycott continues even though the bus company has ordered an end to segregation. The 60th anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott is widely credited with helping spark the modern civil rights movement. (AP Photo/Horace Cort, file)
Rosa Parks arrives at circuit court to be arraigned in the racial bus boycott, Feb. 24, 1956 in Montgomery, Ala. The boycott started last Dec. 5, when Mrs. Parks was fined for refusing to move to the black section of a city bus. (AP Photo)

After the boycott, bus driving opportunities opened and so did other professional opportunities, like race car driving.

A 1966 Ford Galaxie is on display for a limited time. It belonged to Wendall Scott, the first Black American race car driver to compete full-time in Nascar.

“He had to use hand me down equipment, hand me down cars and he would supe them up. And he was such a good driver, that he had 20 top 5 finishes and that’s incredible when you’re using used cars, to be able to win at that level,“ says Cynthia Jones, the Innovation Experiences Manager at The Henry Ford Museum.

“Seeing someone overcome those obstacles … that has an impact on all of us,” Jones added.

The Warrior is another vehicle on display for a limited time. It was designed by one of the first Black engineers, McKinley Thompson.

“He ended up designing a prototype car that we have on display. It’s an opportunity to learn about his career as an entrepreneur and his career as a designer,” Jones said.

You can also see the microscope used by George Washington Carver, the first Black agricultural scientist.

It was a new field of research during a time when cotton was still the main cash crop. Carver studied vegetables like sweet potatoes to search for industrial uses to provide black farmers with additional revenue streams. Carver also led the way in a movement that promoted good nutrition as a key element in the foundation for success.

Dr. George Washington Carver
Dr. George Washington Carver, the famed African American agricultural chemist, is shown in this 1940 photo at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. (AP Photo)

“The belief that nutrition could help anyone live a better life and a stronger citizen made a stronger nation,” says Dr. Debra Reid. “The belief that scientific evidence can change people’s lives and that it had a practical application. That’s what he worked on his entire career."

The Henry Ford highlights innovators and change-makers they hope will inspire all who visit.

“You can innovate," Jones said. "You have the power to overcome what society tells you, you can or can not be."

As we learning about our history they challenge us all to create a better future.

“Ask yourself the question: ‘do we have liberty and justice for all?’ and what will it take to get there,” Jones said.

The Henry Ford is open seven days a week, and you do need to purchase tickets in advance. For more information, click here.