African-Americans’ Major Contributions to Energy and Innovation

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In addition to February recently being proclaimed Keep Michigan Warm Month by Governor Snyder, AMP is also recognizing African-American History Month by taking note of some figures in Black history who have had a tremendous influence on energy.


Perhaps the earliest such individual was Lewis Latimer (1848-1928), who worked for Thomas Edison during the dawn of electricity.  He is most well known for inventing the carbon filament in light bulbs, which made them last much longer than Edison’s original light bulb.  Latimer was followed by another generation of engineers, including prominent African-American inventors like Garrett Morgan (1877-1963) and Otis Boykin (1920-1982).  Morgan invented a traffic light, and Boykin actually invented more than two dozen electrical devices, the most famous of which was the control unit for the artificial heart pacemaker.  These men demonstrated the spirit of innovation that was critical to our energy past, and will be critical to our energy future.


African-Americans have had an increasing influence on energy policy the past few decades.  The first African-American Secretary of Energy was Hazel O’ Leary, appointed by President Clinton in 1993; during her tenure, she focused on nuclear energy.  Former EPA Administrator (2009-2013) Lisa Jackson has also been influential in balancing environmental policy with our current energy priorities.

Of course, our current President Barack Obama is also making a difference in America’s energy future by supporting an all-of-the-above energy policy that recognizes we must balance our pursuit of renewable energy sources with traditional fuels like natural gas, oil, and coal to ensure we can maintain reliability and accessibility and promote economic growth.   Additionally, he appointed LaDoris “Dot” Harris, an African-American woman, to be the Director of the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity at the U.S. Department of Energy, where she works to ensure minorities and historically underrepresented communities are afforded an opportunity to participate fully in our energy programs.

Business Leaders

African-Americans also maintain an important presence in boardrooms across the country.  For example, one of the highest-profile businessmen is Milton Carroll, the Executive Chairman of Centerpoint Energy, Inc., since June 1, 2013.  And here in Michigan, retired DTE Energy Executive Joyce Hayes Giles serves on the board of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. 

There are countless African-American small-business owners and entrepreneurs in the energy sector, as well as African-American investors and shareholders.  These men and women are the true job creators of our country.  Clearly, African-American men and women will continue to have a central role in strengthening our energy future for years to come, and that is something AMP is proud to celebrate.

For more information, check out the American Association of Blacks in Energy.