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Black History Month: Important Figures in The Automotive Industry

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  • Post published:February 22, 2022
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February is Black History Month, and to commemorate it, AmeriDrive put together a list of a few of the black figures who greatly influenced and shaped the automotive industry. From innovators to automotive company owners, a slew of African Americans have positively influenced the automotive industry and paved the way for the future.

The Industry’s Pioneers

In the black revolution, Charles Richard Patterson, George Washington Carver, and McKinley Thompson, Jr are less known figures than Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey. However, the three are black revolutionists that inspired change and innovation in the American automotive industry in their own right.

C.R. Patterson (1833-1910)

Patterson may not be a household name. The luminary was born in 1833, an enslaved person on a West Virginia plantation. He ventured into Ohio, where he partnered with J.P. Lowe in 1873, forming a horse carriage manufacturing plant.

However, it was Patterson’s heir, Frederick, who transformed the company into a fully-fledged automobile company. The company produced the Patterson-Greenfield automobile that competed with Ford’s T model during its pioneering years. The company had to shut down after the great depression. However, the success paved the way for other black industrialists. C.R. Patterson goes down in history as the first African to own a car company.


George Washington Carver (1864-1943)

George Washington Carver’s career reached its high point when he got the invitation from Henry Ford to work at Ford Motors. Carver obliged and enjoyed a fruitful career inventing synthetic rubber, which curbed the rubber shortage. Before joining Ford, George Washington had become the first African American student in Iowa State Agricultural College.

The scientist made other significant inventions, such as alternative forms of gasoline, and was the first African American to make his mark in automobile development.






McKinley Thompson Jr. (1922-2006)

Another Ford luminary who achieved significant success in the white microcosm of Ford Motors is Mckinley Thompson Jr. Thompson Jr designed some iconic models during a burgeoning automotive industry.

“Mac,” as commonly known, has always had an interest in automobile innovation from a tender age. However, during World War II, he had to shelve his ambitions to join the Army Signal Corps in developing communication technologies. Thompson landed a scholarship to graduate from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He then landed a job at Ford’s Design Studio, where he had a knack for futuristic models.

Notable concepts he worked on are the Gryon, Ford Bronco, and Thunderbird. McKinley Thompson Jr had other concepts Ford didn’t develop but used as frameworks for other iconic automobiles.

Wendell Scott (1921-1990)

Wendell Scott’s methods may seem unconventional in modern-day standards. The legend peddled moonshine before racing into the automotive world. Wendell Scott excelled in NASCAR races appearing in the top ten for over one-fifth of races he participated in.

Tip: Watch the movie Greased Lightning. It is a remake of the life of the great NASCAR legend Wendell Scott.

Scott had to battle racial discrimination as he was barred from participating in the races owing to the color of his skin. He relentlessly championed his rights and the efforts paid off in a stellar career for the pioneer.


Modern Day Revolutionaries

Ayesha Coker

The recent appointment of Ayesha Coker as the first African American woman Vice President of marketing for Porsche in Atlanta is a move many other automotive companies have applauded. The past few years have been marred with racial and gender injustice, with African Americans bearing the most brunt. Coker’s appointment serves as a breath of fresh air on the road of justice and equality. Alongside her achievements, notable figures share the spotlight for their change in the modern-day vehicle industry.

Some black figures to note are:

  • Jimmy Settles- Former Vice President of the United Auto Workers who negotiated jobs and occupational rights for many.
  • Fletcher V. Davidson- Group Vice President and General Manager for Toyota has achieved great success with the Japanese automotive giant.
  • Don Butler, former Vice President of marketing for Cadillac, was named one of Egypt’s top 50 business leaders.

A long list of current black figures continuously transforms the automotive industry. Even the above descriptions don’t do justice to the incredible growth African Americans have generated in the vehicle sector.

In Summary 

African Americans have made their mark globally in the American automotive industry, from the pioneers to modern-day revolutionaries. The future is bright for more black figures in the automotive industry.

Black History Month is extremely important to reminisce our growth and remind us of the efforts we need to input and manifest Martin Luther King Jr. and other luminaries’ dreams of the African race. Propagating their efforts to eliminate racial injustice, improve education and improve social standing is only the tip of the iceberg. Because of them, we can do what was almost impossible during their time.


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