October 20, 2021




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Technology and the African-American Experience

Needs and Opportunities for Study


Race and technology are two of the most powerful motifs in American history, but until recently they have not often been considered in relation to each other. This collection of essays examines the intersection of the two in a variety of social and technological contexts, pointing out, as the subtitle (borrowed from Brooke Hindle’s classic 1966 work Early American Technology) puts it, the “needs and opportunities for study.” The essays challenge what editor Bruce Sinclair calls the “myth of black disingenuity”—the historical perception that black people were technically incompetent. Enslaved Africans actually brought with them the techniques of rice cultivation that proved so profitable to their white owners, and antebellum iron working in the South depended heavily on blacks’ craft skills. The essays document the realities of black technical creativity—in catalogs of patented inventiveness, in the use of “invisible technologies” such as sea chanteys, and in the mastery of complex new technologies. But the book also explores the economic and social functions of the disingenuity myth, and therefore its persistence. African-Americans often saw in new technologies a means to escape racial prejudice, but white Americans used them just as often to re-frame the boundaries of social behavior. The essays show that technologies and racialized thought are much more tightly connected than we have imagined.

Integrating the Histories of Race and Technology Bruce Sinclair This volume brings together two subjects strongly connected but long segregated from each other. The history of race in America has been written as if technologies scarcely existed, and the history of technology as if it were utterly innocent of racial significance. Neither of these assumptions bears scrutiny. Indeed, in both cases the very opposite is true; an ancient and pervasive set of bonds links their histories. But there is little by way of an established literature that directly explores this relationship, nor a body of teaching that unites the two subjects. So we must begin the project of constructing a joint history by re-thinking our own assumptions, by borrowing useful ideas from related fields of scholarship, and by selecting examples of method and subject matter that promise fruitful lines of investigation—and in that fashion lay a groundwork. That is why this book is subtitled “Needs and Opportunities for Study.” Its goal is simply to open up the topic for further exploration. There are reasons why the past we seek to reveal has been so long denied, and racial prejudice dominates all of them. But more particularly, perceptions about inventiveness, presentations in our history about the nation-building role of technological talent, and the disciplinary boundaries between the fields of study themselves—as well as the politics that drove their own development—have all served to mask reality, and they are among the issues I want to consider in this introductory essay. A good place to start is with our oldest, most obvious attitudes. White Americans, including those as committed to Enlightenment ideals as Thomas Jefferson—even as he corresponded with Benjamin Banneker, the African-American astronomer and almanac maker— believed the black people among them were mentally inferior, and by that they didn’t just mean a capacity for advanced intellectual accomplishment.1 What good would freedom be, one Southern planter put it, to a field hand whose highest faculties were taxed “to discriminate between cotton and crop-grass, and to strike one with a hoe without hitting the other”?2 Crude preconceptions of mental inferiority went well beyond simple tool using to include almost any aptitude for technological competence, 2 Sinclair and these notions flowered in the basic conditions of forced servitude. Owners linked the supposed endurance for hard, menial labor to brutish intelligence, and then justified enslavement on the grounds of such limited capacities. Besides that casual kind of rationalization, a substantial eighteenth-century literature invidiously compared African and other non-Western civilizations in terms of their relative backwardness in science and technology, making it easy for Europeans and Americans to take it as given that inventive talent was not to be found in any people of color.3 The idea that technical competence was related to race grew even more fixed with time. Even in the relatively tolerant city of Philadelphia, the Franklin Institute, established in 1824 explicitly to encourage the development of the mechanic arts, refused to allow blacks to attend lectures or classes. As Nina Lerman shows in her essay in this volume, the city’s educational institutions increasingly planned occupations for its black students that required only minimal training. The great industrial expositions of the latter part of the nineteenth century made the same point graphically in the contrasts they drew between exhibits of the savagery of the dark-skinned peoples of the world and the brilliant flowering of civilized progress epitomized in Chicago’s 1893 “White City.”4 But rather than simply the shell or emblem of racist thinking, defining AfricanAmericans as technically incompetent and then—in a kind of double curse—denying them access to education, control over complex machinery, or the power of patent rights lay at the heart of the distinctions drawn between black and white people in this country. That formulation always served important political, economic, and social functions, and it is fundamentally why race and technology have for such a long time seemed different, even immiscible, categories of analysis. Racism may have colored all our history, but it whitened the national narrative. Now, without looking very hard, we can see that this deeply ingrained and long perpetuated myth of black disingenuity has been a central element in attempts to justify slavery, as well as a whole array of racialized behaviors in the centuries after emancipation. But we are still left to wonder why scholars haven’t stepped in with a more critically satisfying analysis of the relation between race and technology. The answer to that question lies at least partly in the evolution of the disciplines most concerned with those subjects. In the United States, the history of technology emerged on a wave of post-World War II technological enthusiasm and economic ebullience. Perhaps naturally, it took on a celebratory character, emphasizing a triumphant technics, and Cold War politics reinforced that tendency. This kind of attention to great men and technological progress drove research into rather limited and exclusive channels that centered on big capital, complex technologies, and the small fragment of the population acting on that narrow Integrating the Histories of Race and Technology 3 stage. Inevitably, it dismissed all those who, to use Carroll Pursell’s apt language, “were effectively barred by law, habit, and social expectation from the design and development stages of technical praxis.”5 It was a tale, in other words, of advantage and the successes that flowed from it. This essentially conservative approach had its own theory. Brooke Hindle, one of the field’s early spokesmen, claimed that there was a deep, interior logic to technology, crucial to the understanding of its meaning, and accessible only through rigorous study of its internal complexities.6 That position argued the need for technical as well as historical training, and more selectively defined who and what was worth study. It took a new generation of historians to realize that technology is as much about process as about product, and that its history legitimately comprises the field as well as the factory, the home as well as the engineering site. George Washington Williams published his History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1880 in 1882, though most people would date the origins of AfricanAmerican history as a discipline to Carter Woodson’s founding of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915.7 Still, it was not until the 1960s that African-American Studies became established in the academy, largely as a consequence of the civil rights movement and the research of a group of historians who wrote out of strong ideological conviction. The field that emerged continued a tradition of writing about race relations, implicitly if not explicitly, as a basis for political action. As it matured, however, scholars produced increasingly complex and subtle conceptual frameworks for analyzing race, including new understandings of agency— the ways in which men and women shape their own lives, even under disadvantageous circumstances. These theoretical advances in both fields now open the way for an enriched history of technology and for new insights into the role of technology in African-American life. We have learned for a certainty that race is not a fixed, immutable concept—that definitions of who is white and who is black have changed with time, place, and circumstance. That technology is also a product of interest—political and ideological as well as economic—is also now widely accepted as an analytical point of departure. And we can begin to see that these subjects are more tightly connected than we imagined. Technology has long been an important element in the formation of racial identity in America. Whiteness and technological capability, Susan Smulyan points out, were usually seen as “natural” parts of each other, and as fundamental elements of masculinity.8 By the end of the nineteenth century, these ideas had found widespread acceptance in such best-selling novels as Trail of the Lonesome Pine and The Winning of Barbara Worth, each subsequently made into a movie that featured a rugged, intelligent, 4 Sinclair problem-solving white engineer as the leading male character. An opposite calculus— the imputation of foolish incompetence in blacks, and thus the want of a key ingredient for independent manhood—found equally widespread acceptance. How and why these constructions were framed and how they interact thus becomes not just a good object of study, but a critical one. There is a very reasonable argument to be made for the proposition that all discussions of race should go beyond the simple juxtaposition of black and white, and this is certainly true in the case of technology. But there is an equally persuasive logic for starting with African-Americans—because they are the classic American minority group, because they have been the focus of most American civil rights efforts, and because in their case American ideals of justice and equity are most specifically at issue.9 Yet, even with an enhanced appreciation of the complexities of these subjects and of their interrelatedness, we need also to be reminded that, although archival holdings and museum collections influence what historians study, people also make choices about what history gets written. Until feminist scholars created the analytical tools that revealed the women who had been there all along, historians could hardly imagine their existence.10 Similarly, until very recently few historians have sought analytical tools that might link the study of African-Americans and technology. Just as it took new approaches to put women back into the story of America, so we now seek the means to write blacks back into the history of American technology. To conceive such tools, we need to start not with African-Americans but with the ways in which white Americans have represented themselves. From the eighteenth century on, white Americans described themselves as an inventive people. They claimed to have a natural disposition for quick and novel solutions to the practical problems of life. That is what “Yankee ingenuity” meant—a self-attached label, applied early on.11 And that distinct image, explicitly and repeatedly articulated over the next two centuries, was ideologically linked to the exploitation of the continent’s natural resources as well as to the historic destiny white Americans imagined to be the just consequence of their political experiment. Democratic ideals would triumph by releasing the people’s energies, and they would prosper by exploiting the resources that had been given them. But that romantic vision was always framed in racial terms. European-Americans almost never considered the Africans among them, whether enslaved or enfranchised, to be capable of creative technical thought—and they translated that difference into an explicit point of contrast. Hundreds of examples illustrate that conviction, but they are all summed up in the sarcasm of a Massachusetts lawyer in a patent case when he said “I never knew a negro to invent anything but lies.”12 And even as colonial Integrating the Histories of Race and Technology 5 newspaper advertisements by the hundreds described the considerable craft skills of runaways, plantation owners insisted that enslaved Africans broke or misused their tools because they could not understand how to use them, not as deliberate acts of resistance.13 More than that, Ron Takaki points out, technology was perceived as the means by which people of color throughout the United States—African, Native American, Hispanic, and Asian—were to be subordinated to the grander purposes of American civilization.14 All down these long decades, white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant Americans made technology and the capacity for its skillful management central both to the task of nation-building and to the way they represented themselves. Just as plainly, they contrasted themselves to people of color, whom they judged incapable of such things. That’s what Toni Morrison means by “Africanism,” an explicit kind of marginalization against which privileged status can be defined.15 Our history with technology, then, has always been entangled in ideas about race. But the curious consequence is that we have written that history blind to color—as if accepting all those earlier assumptions about who was inventive and who was not, as if the ways in which a people thought about and used technologies were essentially irrelevant. This limited kind of understanding is currently under attack. The work of Takaki, Robert Rydell, and Michael Adas reveals the extent to which our historic concepts of technology and of our own technological prowess have been infused by racial ideology.16 Even Technology and Culture—the principal journal on the history of technology—has started publishing articles that explicitly engage the issue of race and technology. One example, reprinted here, shows how rice cultivation in South Carolina and Georgia depended on knowledge brought to those places by enslaved Africans. We already knew from Peter Wood’s work that lowland South Carolina planters preferred slaves from the rice-growing regions of Africa, and we knew that those slave owners were themselves originally ignorant of the techniques and processes of rice cultivation.17 Now we can appreciate in more explicit detail the specifics of field layout, of irrigation methods, and of the technics of rice processing (all African imports), and what we learn directly challenges the notion that blacks contributed only their labor.18 Another recent article in Technology and Culture describes the relation between race, changing technology, and work assignments at Bell Telephone, and shows how the technological displacement of labor was biased by color.19 We always thought that happened; now we have a compelling analysis of the process. So, even if slowly, we begin to see that in our country technology and race have always been tied closely together, just as we begin to sense that those connections are much more intertwined and ubiquitous than we ever realized. 6 Sinclair How can we throw even more light on these complexities? We might start by searching out all the black inventors who have never received appropriate credit. That approach not only gives the lie to the myth of disingenuity, but also offers the comfort of familiar ground. In this country we have always celebrated our inventors. We love telling success stories, imagining them to say something important about both our past and our future. And in fact we are now beginning to see some interesting work about black inventiveness. A good place to start is Portia James’s The Real McCoy, an extensive catalog written to accompany an exhibit she developed at the Anacostia Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. In a revised form, her essay from that book is included in this volume.20 Another source that will prove valuable is Rayvon Fouche’s Black Inventors in the Age of Segregation, soon to be released by the John Hopkins University Press Invention is, however, a problematic category of analysis. The patent system has always worked worst for the poor, who have had least access to its law and processes, and that proved doubly so for black inventors. Before 1865, they were even denied the right to a patent, so that slave owners could lay claim to the intellectual as well as the physical labor of their property. After 1865 blacks more often than not lacked the economic resources to develop their ideas into patentable or marketable form, and for that reason were often forced to sell their interest in inventions prematurely. The romance of invention focuses on the flash of creative insight, to use A. P. Usher’s dramatic phrase, but financial rewards more often depend on the legal manipulation of patent rights— something else not easily managed from the margins of society.21 Finally, it is important to realize that patents describe only a fragment of human inventive activity and are only a small part of the story of people’s experiences with technologies. On the other hand, if that familiar model doesn’t work very well, what new paradigms do we need in order to discover the connections we seek? In fact, all it takes to reveal a much more richly populated and therefore more authentic history is to turn the older approach on its head. If, instead of concentrating on the production of new technology, we look equally hard at the worlds of labor and of consumption, then whole new casts of characters emerge. Let’s start with work. After all, it was the work of African-Americans that created the rice, tobacco, and cotton economies of the South, and thus so much of America’s eighteenth- and nineteenthcentury agricultural wealth. Some of that labor also took place in factories, both before and after the Civil War. Charles B. Dew originally pointed out the crucial role played by skilled slave ironworkers in Richmond’s Tredegar Ironworks, one of the South’s largest industrial enterprises. In a subsequent analysis of smaller furnaces and forges in the great valley of Virginia, Dew revealed both the extent to which slave artisans (who Integrating the Histories of Race and Technology 7 couldn’t go on strike) became the preferred work force and how their skills gave them some control over their own work assignments.22 W. E. B. Du Bois, in The Negro Artisan, identified black workers with “considerable mechanical ingenuity” across a broad range of craft and manufacturing occupations.23 World War I opened up new opportunities for black people in Northern factories, breaking the agricultural “job ceiling” (to use the words of Trotter and Lewis) and making blacks important contributors to the nation’s industrial economy.24 Thinking about labor means establishing the historical worth of the work in which most people have always been engaged, and it means exploring more creatively the relations between work, technologies, and skill. I don’t at all mean to suggest that we relegate the inventive imagination of Elijah McCoy or Granville Woods to a place of lesser historic importance. But if we intend a truly inclusive history, an argument Lonnie Bunch cogently advances in an essay reprinted here, then we have to take into account all those people whose most crucial encounter with machines and technological systems takes place on the job. And surely it is the case that, in the normal, daily working of the world, skill and experience count for as much as abstract knowledge and formal training. What makes this fact important to us is that by defining technical knowledge and creativity in broad terms we immediately reveal hosts of African-Americans who had previously been excluded from the story. We find them planning the layout of South Carolina rice fields, creating pottery, fashioning the furniture now highly prized by collectors, using sewing machines, running and fixing cotton gins, molding iron in Henry Ford’s assembly-line factories, and fishing in the ocean for schools of menhaden.25 Frederick Douglass understood the critical importance of these kinds of skills in American society, and more particularly he recognized the precise connection in our society between skill and manly status. In an 1848 letter to Harriet Beecher Stowe, he wrote: “We must become mechanics—we must build, as well as live in houses—we must make, as well as use furniture—we must construct bridges, as well as pass over them—before we can properly live, or be respected by our fellow men.”26 Work has been an important theme of recent studies in African-American history. But in addition to the relation between labor and the creation of wealth, we also need to think about the connections between work and craft and about the affinity between craft skill and knowledge. Since the nineteenth century, engineering in this country has depended on a published literature and on advanced formal instruction that has included physics and mathematics. Craft skill depends on a different kind of knowledge, most of it unwritten and learned on the job. Apprenticeship—whether institutionalized or not—rests on emulation and repetitive practice in the interest of acquiring 8 Sinclair manual skills, and it is married to experience with the ways in which materials behave in different circumstances. Not only is this kind of knowledge complex and difficult to transfer; it gains importance when considered in the context of the history of American slavery, the formal acquisition of knowledge by slaves having been forbidden by law. In the seventeenth century, there was little hesitancy at exploiting the technical talents of African labor. Edmund White, for instance, wrote in 1688 to Joseph Morton, twice governor of the Carolina colony: “let yr negroes be taught to be smiths, shoemakers & carpenters & bricklayers: they are capable of learning anything.”27 And learn they did. Robert Fogel estimates that by the eighteenth century 10 percent of all black women were engaged in cloth production, while upwards of half of all male slaves were employed in blacksmithing, leather-working, cooperage, and carpentry—all considered elite occupations, as were such subsequent pursuits as the management of steam engines, boilers, and other machinery.28 Indeed, Fogel points out, plantations were industrial enterprises that employed advanced technologies and depended upon a wide variety of skills. A more complex division of labor yields more complex labor, and this fact is important as a corrective to the notion that enslaved blacks were ignorant of current technics and untouched by them. Almost from the beginning, slavery in America was characterized by substantial technical talent and an elaborate occupational hierarchy. Moreover, planters encouraged the development of hierarchies, seeing it as a means of ensuring a tractable work force. As Fogel argues, “the critical decision made by the planters, the decision that allowed the eventual emergence of a many-sided and often quasi-autonomous slave society, was the switch from whites to slaves as the source of personnel for their various managerial and craft slots.”29 There were risks to this approach. Even as their owners encouraged legislation to prohibit the education of slaves, the teaching of craft skills often required some book learning. And knowledge combined with skill brought other contradictions. One planter ruefully observed that, analogous to the profit he made, these elite occupations rewarded their black practitioners with “an extra measure of pride.”30 So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that skilled craftsmen led most slave rebellions. Identity through one’s work has always been a fundamental part of our culture. Consider the maritime occupations, for example. Long before Frederick Douglass learned the ship caulker’s trade, blacks—both free and unfree—worked at shipbuilding, as sailmakers, and as sailors.31 On both sides of the Chesapeake, where waterways provided the dominant means of transportation, as well as the source of seafood and game, generations of African-American watermen and boat builders, down to the present, have practiced their crafts, as family histories are now beginning to reveal.32 Integrating the Histories of Race and Technology 9 Pursuing these kinds of investigations will amplify our understanding both of technology and of the diverse people engaged with it. And field is as relevant as factory; agriculture depends on a set of technologies, just as does fishing, mining, and forestry. Each also requires varied kinds of expertise in the management of its techniques, some of which, Barbara Garrity-Blake’s essay provocatively suggests, can even be invisible in character. Finally, examining the links between race and labor gives us more useful conceptual tools. Scholars have already noticed that while access to technology-related jobs has often been made a matter of color, that relationship has often changed as technologies have changed, and the assignments have also differed geographically. At one end of the range technologies displace labor, while at the other technologies create a demand for low-wage labor in high-risk conditions, some of which can include strikebreaking. Thus, new technologies constantly force the renegotiation of racialized work, and the whole history of that process remains to be written.33 An examination of the role of consumption similarly reveals a much more interesting picture of the relation between technology and race and promises an especially fruitful line of inquiry. Leaving aside the idea that consumers play a role in the design process, it can at least be said that outside of work, most of us encounter technologies as consumers—that is, through use. Patents, after all, have little historical importance if no one uses the thing invented, as happens more often than one might realize. Moreover, we know that people employ technologies differently. Black families in Atlanta used automobiles not only for work or personal convenience, but also to escape the humiliating experience of segregated systems of public transit—thus giving that technology a distinctly political purpose.34 Indeed, Langdon Winner claims that technologies actually have politics embedded in their forms—an argument that might sound right to anyone familiar with the effects of technological unemployment on blacks.35 And it works the other way, too. The furnaces and foundries at the Ford Motor Company, for example, replicated the social politics of the outside world when white workers decided that, regardless of pay scales, they would not work at such dirty jobs.36 Besides whatever practical ends or economic ambitions it serves, access to technology defines status and power. Electrical technicians of the late nineteenth century, in an attempt to establish their own primacy as experts in the fluid occupational demographics of that period, consistently belittled the technological competence of blacks and women.37 People use technology that way—to maintain existing social arrangements, or to escape them. We can most clearly see how these behaviors and strategies play out in the case of novel technologies; Kathleen Franz’s essay in this volume shows the rich research possibilities of this approach. 10 Sinclair People also appropriate technologies for their own ends, which are often different than those originally intended. Women have been known to cook turkeys in dishwashers, using the drying cycle. A decade ago, young African-American musicians experimentally scratched a stylus across vinyl records to create an alternative sound that carried political and cultural meaning. Despite the subsequent commercialization of that sound, it is still a good example of people using their politics to rethink technologies.38 And here we come back to that matter of representation. Bell hooks has focused our attention on “the politics of representation,” and that issue bears with particular force for us here because it has been such a struggle for blacks to represent themselves as technically competent. Photography is an oblique but good example of the case. When black people used it, the camera became “a political instrument, a way to resist misrepresentation, as well as a means by which alternative images could be produced.” The camera was crucial to the way they could picture themselves. It gave them a means to “participate fully in the production of images,” regardless of class—an ability that was enormously important in a world where someone else usually controlled the ways in which African-Americans were represented. Photography became, as hooks puts it, “a powerful location for the construction of an oppositional black aesthetic.”39 This power to define reality provides a starting point from which to shape politics and culture differently. And it works two ways: cameras in black hands—just like the technology of music in black hands—allows for the creation of an alternative image, but that image also enables African-Americans to represent themselves as skillful in the management of those technologies. Thus, the way we think about race is often shaped by the technology employed in the debate. That connection becomes clear if we look at communications media, and it tells us something important about the control of radio that “Amos ’n’ Andy” was the first serial program broadcast nationally in the United States. Even though that particular show employed white actors who imitated Negro speech, in many other cases the networks depended on black artists for talent, an important reality for people of color. According to Stanley Crouch, African-Americans could “remember radio waves smacking down segregation and making the jazz and dance band broadcasts, for instance, national experiences in the most democratic sense possible.”40 African-Americans have always been interested in new technologies. And, like most other Americans, they have believed in the regenerative powers of technology. Inevitably, they ascribed an array of possibilities to machines such as cars and airplanes—new economic opportunities, an escape from racism, the chance to claim a place for themselves in American society. But technologies that you cannot own are different. Blacks could and did buy phonograph records as a way of managing the Integrating the Histories of Race and Technology 11 content of that technology within their own homes. The content of radio, however, was much more difficult to control, as those “Amos ’n’ Andy” broadcasts so blatantly revealed. Yet even in this case, the politics of radio technology allowed AfricanAmericans at least one chance to manipulate programming for their own ends. Barbara Savage tells the story in her recent book Broadcasting Freedom. The central character in this episode is Ambrose Calliver, Senior Specialist in Education of Negroes in the U.S. Department of Education.41 Long interested in radio as a medium, Calliver wanted to develop a series of programs that would showcase AfricanAmerican contributions to the nation’s history, culture, and intellectual life. To that end, he adroitly linked technology and politics. First, he knew that the Roosevelt administration was concerned about the extent to which blacks would support the war effort, particularly since A. Philip Randolph—using the very rhetoric employed against Hitlerism to address the problems of racism at home—was threatening a march on Washington to protest discriminatory hiring in defense jobs. Calliver also appreciated the fact that government control of frequency allocation gave him leverage with network broadcasters, and he understood that this public character of radio made it especially suitable for educational content. Calliver skillfully manipulated these factors to push NBC into broadcasting a series called “Freedom’s People,” starting in the fall of 1941. Using an experienced science writer, he artfully orchestrated a message that began with comfortable, non-threatening music such as “Go Down Moses” and featured celebrated artists such as Paul Robeson. Then, in a conscious and deliberate way, Calliver progressed to shows on literature, science, discovery, invention, military service, and the skills of black workers—building his argument for the intellectual abilities, the inventive talents, the courage, and the capabilities of African-Americans, past and present. Besides serving as a nice example of the intersection of race, politics, and technology, Calliver’s radio series raises interesting questions that call for further study. We might ask, for instance, how race gets represented in communications media. AfricanAmericans were anxious to counteract the vulgarity of “Amos ’n’ Andy” and the way blacks were portrayed on programs like “The Jack Benny Show,” but in casting “Freedom’s People” Calliver and his advisors were also concerned not to have an announcer whose voice didn’t sound black enough. So, one might ask, how do race and technology reconstruct each other in radio and in other media? We can give meaning and form to our technologies as consumers, and we can shape their applications through politics, but it is important to understand that they do not come to us as a given. They are not the result of a neutral process, and they are certainly not the consequence of some inevitable technical logic. They are the result of choices, 12 Sinclair of social processes, and consequently they embody interests, positions, and attitudes. Steven Lubar puts it as follows: “Machines and technological systems, like other forms of material culture, render cultural and social relations visible, tangible, and artifactual, objectifying and externalizing them. Our machines reflect our culture and society.”42 More than that, even, one could argue that machines and technical processes—whether simple or complex—don’t just mirror us, but rather they are our culture and society. In other words, all these objects, techniques, and systems, as well as the ways in which they are imagined, produced, employed, consumed, and experienced, are embodiments of the ways in which we think and act. In their own work, historians of technology have demonstrated that technologies emerge from a rich mix of choices and constraints that are social, economic, political, and technical. But for all that effort, the notion of technology as a black box—something that comes to us in an inescapable form—is still widely popular. Consider, for example, a recent feature story in the New York Times about an array of small electronic devices, often installed and deployed without the knowledge of the car owner, that are increasingly being used to monitor people and their automobiles. In fact, these intrusive technologies are promoted by an array of interests that include insurance companies, fast food chains, and car rental agencies. Yet in speaking of their use, a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania’s law school concluded—as if the outcome were predetermined—that “technology goes forward and people are either forced to accept the loss of privacy or lose out on the benefits.”43 That casual observation, so reminiscent of the slogan of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, “Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms,” ignores both the contingent nature of technology and the unequal power relations in these transactions. And that is where including race in our analysis brings especially useful insights. Looking at technology from the vantage point of African-American history throws the issue of power into sharp relief. Technology may be socially constructed, but the players are not all on the same footing—a truth familiar to people of color, who have also long known that both its benefits and consequences are distributed unequally. Once we understand technology in these broader terms, we can appreciate the fact that the history of technology in America must necessarily comprise a much larger segment of the population, black and white, than we have imagined. And this understanding of the material world we have created for ourselves, while more complex than our earlier ideas about these things, ultimately yields a truer, more empowering history. But this history will not write itself. The problem of sources is real; for want of written historical records, we know little of the enslaved African potter “Dave,” of South Carolina, beyond the remarkable examples of his talent now housed in museums, Integrating the Histories of Race and Technology 13 and not much more of Thomas Day, the celebrated African-American furniture maker.44 But, of course—it is worth repeating—what gets remembered is not simply a matter of documents but also of choice, of deciding what we will write about. And that decision often rests on what we imagine it possible to write about. More and more, we are coming to see that there is an interesting and important history to be written about race and technology in America. Recent Ph.D. dissertations such as Linda Tucker’s “Science at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute,” Nina Lerman’s on nineteenth-century industrial and vocational education in Philadelphia, Rayvon Fouche’s on the African-American inventor Granville Woods, Jill Snider’s “Flying to Freedom: African-American Visions of Aviation, 1910–1927,” and Angela Lakwete’s on the cotton gin are a few examples. But there is yet a great deal to be done. “Invisible Hands,” an exhibit of black craftsmanship held at Macon, Georgia, suggested the possibilities of future work in material culture study. And anyone interested in pursuing the subject should begin with Theodore C. Landsmark’s “Bibliography of African-American Material Culture,” deposited at the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Library in Wilmington, Delaware. Much is still to be discovered about the history of black scientific and technical educational institutions. Nina Lerman has written insightfully about race and education in nineteenth-century Philadelphia, and contributes an essay to this volume that suggests important larger themes on the subject, as well as an innovative conceptual framework. But while there were hundreds of technical colleges and institutes created to educate African-Americans, there is very little information about schools other than Tuskegee and Hampton. Amy Slaton’s essay in this volume on more contemporary educational practice neatly outlines a research program that, besides providing an example of a successful grant proposal, might help us understand some of the roots of contrasting professional experiences between black and white engineers. We also need a more complete exploration of African-American participation in the industrial exhibitions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—from regional fairs such as the Cotton States Expositions in Atlanta to national exhibitions such as the one held in Louisiana in 1904 and on to the great international expositions in Paris that Du Bois wrote about.45 The Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 presents especially rich materials for further examination. The Reason Why the Colored American Is Not in the World’s Columbian Exposition, edited by Robert Rydell, is a good place to begin.46 At the local level, the study of African-American communities with technology in mind will reveal a wide range of technical knowledge and skills practiced by women and men, in their homes, stores, and shops. That was true of free black neighborhoods 14 Sinclair before 1865, and was certainly so in the urban centers of the later nineteenth and the twentieth century.47 We can see, then, that there is a great deal more to the interrelatedness of race and technology than scholars once thought, and a variety of interesting ways to come at this history. Upsetting as her story is, now that we know the dangers of overexposure to radiation, Rebecca Herzig’s exploration of x-ray hair removal and skin whitening provides a provocative example of the varieties in analysis this subject offers. Furthermore, there is quite a substantial amount of rewarding material for study available both to teachers and students. The broad scope of Amy Bix’s bibliographic essay reveals a surprising array of source materials and of research possibilities, and—together with the footnote references from the essays assembled here, many of which she incorporated into her essay—interested students will find all they need to make a start. Indeed, as we continue to explore the richness of this subject, the only surprise will be that we have waited so long to discover what lies at hand. Notes 1. For the details of that correspondence, see Silvio Bedini, The Life of Benjamin Banneker (Scribner, 1971). 2. Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey in the Back Country, 1853–1854 (Schocken, 1970), reprint, p. 382. 3. The best source for the ways in which racial characteristics were defined in terms of scientific and technological accomplishment is Michael Adas, Machines as the Measure of Men: Science, Technology, and Ideologies of Western Dominance (Cornell University Press, 1989). 4. Robert Rydell, All the World’s a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876–1916 (University of Chicago Press, 1984). 5. Carroll W. Pursell, Listening for the Silences, position paper presented at a workshop on Technology and the African-American Experience, Atlanta, February 4, 1994. 6. Brooke Hindle, Technology in Early America: Needs and Opportunities for Study (University of North Carolina Press, 1966). 7. See Robert L. Harris, “The Flowering of Afro-American History,” American Historical Review 92 (1987), December: 1150–1161. 8. Susan Smulyan, The Social Construction of Race in the United States, a position paper presented at workshop on Technology and the African-American Experience, Atlanta, February 4, 1994. 9. This case is well made by Ron Takaki on p. 7 of A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (Little, Brown, 1993). 10. For examples of how feminist scholars have changed the history of technology, see Judy Wajcman, Feminism Confronts Technology (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991); Angela Integrating the Histories of Race and Technology 15 N. H. Creager et al., Feminism in Twentieth-Century Science, Technology, and Medicine (University of Chicago Press, 2001); Technology and Culture 38 (1997), special edition edited by Nina Lerman, Arwen Palmer Mohun, and Ruth Oldenziel. 11. A good example of this notion of a predisposition toward inventiveness, as well as a telling case of postwar technological enthusiasm, can be found in John A. Kouwenhoven, Made in America: The Arts in Modern American Civilization (Branford, 1948). 12. W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, “The American Negro at Paris,” American Monthly Review of Reviews 22 (1900), p. 576. 13. Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (Harvard University Press, 1998), p. 120. 14. Ron Takaki, Iron Cages: Race and Culture in 19th-Century America (Oxford University Press, 1990). 15. Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (Harvard University Press, 1992). 16. Adas, Machines as the Measure of Men; Robert Rydell, All the World’s a Fair (University of Chicago Press, 1987). 17. “Literally hundreds of black immigrants were more familiar with the planting, hoeing, processing, and cooking of rice than were the European settlers who purchased them.” (Peter H. Wood, Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina, From 1670 through the Stono Rebellion, Norton, 1974, p. 61) See also Peter H. Wood, “‘It Was a Negro Taught Them’: A New Look at African Labor in Early South Carolina,” Journal of Asian and African Studies 9 (1974): 160–179. 18. Judith Carney, “Landscapes of Technology Transfer: Rice Cultivation and African Continuities,” Technology and Culture 37 (1996), January: 5–35. 19. Venus Green, “Goodbye Central: Automation and the Decline of ‘Personal Service’ in the Bell System,” Technology and Culture 36 (1995), October: 912–949. 20. Pursell, Listening for the Silences. 21. Abbott Payson Usher, A History of Mechanical Inventions (McGraw-Hill, 1929). On the manipulation of patents, see also Carolyn C. Cooper, Shaping Invention: Thomas Blanchard’s Machinery and Patent Management in Nineteenth-Century America (Columbia University Press, 1991). 22. Charles B. Dew, Ironmaker to the Confederacy: Joseph Anderson and the Tredegar Iron Works (Yale University Press, 1966), pp. 29–31; Dew, Bond of Iron: Master and Slave at Buffalo Forge (Norton, 1994), pp. 67–70. 23. W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, The Negro Artisan (Atlanta University Press, 1902), p. 188. 24. Joe W. Trotter and Earl Lewis, eds., African Americans in the Industrial Age: A Documentary History, 1915–1945 (Northeastern University Press, 1996), p. 1. 25. John Michael Vlach has provided the best information on African-American craft workers. See, for example, his book The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts(Cleveland Museum of Art Press, 1978). Barbara Garrity-Blake’s The Fish Factory: Work and Meaning for Black and White Fishermen of the American Menhaden Industry (University of Tennessee Press, 1994) is a fascinating study of the intersection of work, mechanism, and social relations. 16 Sinclair 26. “Proceedings of the 1853 Colored National Convention at Rochester, New York” (Frederick Douglass to Harriet Beecher Stowe, March 8, 1848), in Minutes of the Proceedings of the National Negro Conventions, 1830–1864, ed. H. Bell (Arno, 1969). Another useful source of information on the subject of work and skill is A Guide to the Microfilm Edition of Slavery in Ante-Bellum Southern Industries, ed. M. Shipper (University Publications of America, 1997). 27. Peter H. Wood, Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina From 1670 through the Stono Rebellion (Norton, 1974), pp. 43–44. 28. Robert William Fogel, Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery (Norton, 1989), p. 50. 29. Ibid., p. 58. 30. Berlin, Many Thousands Gone, p. 137. 31. Jeffrey Bolster, Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail (Harvard University Press, 1997). 32. Harold Anderson, “Black Men, Blue Waters: African Americans on the Chesapeake,” Maryland Marine Notes 16 (1998), March-April: 1–3, 6–7. 33. One example of this literature is Jaqueline Jones, American Work: Four Centuries of Black and White Labor (Norton, 1998). For an account of the ways in which technologies create demand for low wage, high-risk jobs see Armando Solorzano and Jorge Iber, “Digging the ‘Richest Hole on Earth’: The Hispanic Miners of Utah, 1912–1945,” Perspectives in Mexican American Studies 7 (2000): 1–27. 34. Blaine A. Brownell, “A Symbol of Modernity: Attitudes toward the Automobile in Southern Cities in the 1920s,” American Quarterly 24 (1972), March, p. 35. 35. Langdon Winner, The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology (University of Chicago Press, 1986). 36. Joyce S. Peterson, “Black Automotive Workers in Detroit, 1910–1930,” Journal of Negro History 64 (1978): 177–190. See also Warren Whatley, African Americans, Technology, Work and the Reproduction of Racial Differencing, unpublished research paper, 1994. 37. Carolyn Marvin, When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking About Electrical Communication in the Late Nineteenth Century (Oxford University Press, 1988). 38. Tricia Rose, Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (Wesleyan University Press, 1994). 39. Bell hooks, “In Our Glory,” in Picturing Us, ed. D. Willis (New Press, 1994), p. 49. 40. Stanley Crouch, The All American Skin Game, or The Decoy of Race (Vintage, 1995), p. 110. 41. Barbara Dianne Savage, Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War, and the Politics of Race, 1938–1948 (University of North Carolina Press, 1999). 42. Steven Lubar, Technology and Race, position paper presented at workshop on Technology and the African-American Experience, Atlanta, February 5, 1994. 43. New York Times, October 25, 2001. 44. See Vlach, The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts. 45. See Du Bois, “The American Negro at Paris,” and Philip S. Foner, “Black Participation in the Centennial of 1876,” Phylon 39 (1978): 283–295. Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia

Integrating the Histories of Race and Technology 17 University also presented an exhibit of American higher education at the Paris exposition, irresistibly suggesting a comparison with Du Bois’s experience there. 46. Robert Rydell, ed., The Reason Why the Colored American Is Not in the World’s Columbian Exposition (University of Illinois Press, 1999). 47. For an example of a study of free black communities, see James O. Horton, Free People of Color: Inside the African American Community (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993). See also his more recent studies In Hope of Liberty (Oxford University Press, 1997) and Black Bostonians (Holmes & Meier, 1999).

More: https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/technology-and-african-american-experience


Just who are among the most influential blacks in technology? Here’s a snapshot: One leads a dominant software brand that enables thousands of companies and millions of people worldwide to avoid a range of cyberthreats. Another high-powered executive has unveiled the next generation in mobile technology that will dramatically change the way we work, live, and conduct business. One entrepreneur has built a company that uses innovation to bring renewable energy to countries and could provide the answer to sustainability for a continent—and the world. And another CEO runs a publicly traded company that helps police departments detect and analyze gunshots as a means of reducing urban violence.

The aforementioned disruptors and more than a score of others represent a phalanx of CEOs, founders of ground-breaking enterprises, and corporate leaders who help drive the strategic direction at some of America’s most iconic tech companies. In the process, they impact a range of sectors, including financial services, manufacturing, food services, and entertainment to name but a few. Those found on our roster represent the following:

-Leaders who oversee, operate, and guide the strategic direction of publicly traded and privately held high-impact tech companies

most influential blacks in technology
Ralph A. Clark President & CEO ShotSpotter Inc.

If you can identify technology that has helped reduce gun violence, police departments from Chicago to New York will point to ShotSpotter Inc. Ralph A. Clark, the company’s president and CEO, has been responsible for making the company the leader in gunshot detection, location, and forensic analysis. And most recently, he expanded the company’s portfolio with the acquisition of HunchLab technology from Philadelphia-based Azavea, which will enable the company to apply risk modeling and AI to help forecast when and where crimes are likely to occur and provide deterrence recommendations for specific patrol missions.

Clark’s 30 years of corporate, financial, and organizational leadership has led to the company’s superior performance. His previous positions include serving as president and CEO at GuardianEdge Technologies Inc., leading its transformation into a leader in endpoint data protection before helping orchestrate its acquisition by Symantec, and chief financial officer at Snap Appliance Inc. Prior to his role at Snap Appliance, he worked at several VC-backed startups, leading a number of them to successful acquisitions. Early in his career, Clark, who holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of the Pacific, and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School, excelled in sales and marketing roles at IBM as well as served as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs & Co. L.L.C. and Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc., handling transactions involving tech companies.


Marc Jones

Chairman and CEO


most influential blacks in technology

On the cutting edge of technology as chairman and CEO of Aeris, Marc Jones has led his team over the past decade to help power the world’s largest companies through the Internet of Things (IoT). Named by Goldman Sachs as one of the nation’s leading entrepreneurs in 2012 and 2013, Jones grew up in Chicago before heading west to Stanford University, where he received both his undergraduate and law degrees. As a young attorney, he was recruited by top-tier investment banks and then by some of his clients. In his early 30s, he was named president and COO of Madge Networks, where he helped turn the upstart network solutions company with $40 million in revenue into an industry leader producing revenue of $500 million. Madge’s initial public offering was successfully executed on Jones’ watch. After Madge, Jones served as the chairman and CEO of Visionael, a pioneer in enterprise network management and automation, raising over $40 million to fuel its rapid growth. In addition to his professional work, he serves as the chair of Management Leadership for Tomorrow and a board member of the California Health Care Foundation and a trustee for Stanford University.


Eric Kelly

Chairman & CEO

Sphere 3D Corp.

most influential blacks in technology

A Silicon Valley heavyweight for more than three decades, Eric Kelly serves as chairman and CEO of Sphere 3D Corp., which delivers containerization, virtualization, and data management solutions via hybrid cloud, cloud, and on-premise implementations through its global reseller network and professional services organization.  He has served as Sphere 3D’s chairman since July 2013, and gained the CEO position in 2014, after its merger with Overland Storage, the enterprise he helmed five years prior to the transaction. Under his leadership, net revenues of the publicly traded company increased to $81.5 million for FY 2017  and its portfolio of brands expanded to provide solutions for the healthcare, education, government, and financial services sectors.

His previous positions have included vice president and general manager of Storage Systems Solutions at Adaptec Inc.; president and CEO of Snap Appliance; president of the Systems Division at Maxtor Corp., as well as various executive-level roles with Dell Computer Corp., Diamond Multimedia, Conner Peripherals, and IBM.

His business acumen placed him in high demand in business and government circles. In fact, Kelly, who earned an M.B.A. from San Francisco State University and a B.S. in Business from San Jose State University, served two terms on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Manufacturing Council, providing counsel to the Obama administration on strategies and policy recommendations to promote and advance domestic manufacturing.


François Locoh-Donou

President & CEO

F5 Networks Inc.

most influential blacks in technology

Having lived in the West African nation of Togo and France, François Locoh-Donou brings a unique global perspective to his leadership of Seattle-based F5 Networks Inc. Named president, chief executive officer, and a member of the board of directors in April 2017, he brought two decades of enterprise technology experience to the company, which specializes in application delivery networking technology.  His prowess delivered record revenue for the publicly traded company of $2.1 billion in 2017.

Locoh-Donou previously held successive leadership positions at Ciena, the network strategy and technology company, including chief operating officer; senior vice president, Global Products Group; vice president and general manager, EMEA; vice president, International Sales; and vice president, Marketing. Prior to joining Ciena, he held R&D roles at Photonetics, a French optoelectronics company.

Locoh-Donou, who received his bachelor’s and master’s in physics engineering at École Centrale de Marseille; a master’s in optical communications from Télécom Paris Tech, and his M.B.A. from Stanford, serves on the advisory board of Jhpiego, a nonprofit global health affiliate of Johns Hopkins University. He is also the co-founder of Cajou Espoir, a cashew-processing facility that employs several hundred people in rural Togo, 80% of whom are women. Cajou Espoir exports more than 400 tons of cashew kernels annually to the U.S. and Europe.


Charles E. Phillips

President & CEO

Infor Inc.

most influential blacks in technology

Charles E. Phillips has built Infor Inc. into a multinational tech powerhouse. As CEO of one of the world’s largest providers of enterprise software applications since 2010, he has been responsible for doubling the company’s revenue to $2.7 billion and size to more than 15,000 employees. It also became the first major software company to offer an integrated, end-to-end application suite for entire industries: the first Industry Cloud Company. Due to this phenomenal growth, Koch Equity Development, a division of Koch Industries, made a $2.5 billion investment in the firm last year.

Phillips, who was named one of BE’s Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America has spent his career transforming companies with technology, industry domain, and unconstrained thinking. As such, the former captain in the Marine Corps.—who rose to become a managing director at Morgan Stanley and co-president and director of Oracle—has been highly sought after for service on boards, including Viacom Corp., Banco Santander, Apollo Theater, Business Executives for National Security, and Jazz at Lincoln Center. Phillips, who holds a bachelor’s degree from the Air Force Academy, an M.B.A. from Hampton University, and a law degree from New York University, serves as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and was a member of the President’s Economic Advisory Board during the Obama administration.


Corey E. Thomas

President & CEO


most influential blacks in technology

Rapid7 is one of the go-to companies for major corporations that seek to detect and respond to cyberattacks. Due to the leadership of Corey E. Thomas, its president and CEO, that reputation is well deserved. In fact, the Rapid7 Insight platform collects data from across a given company’s environment to enable teams to manage weaknesses, monitor user behavior, search logs, and other functions. It handles such services for more than 7,000 organizations—including Microsoft, Macy’s, Netflix, and Intuit—in more than 120 countries.

Thomas is one of the leading experts in this arena: In 2018, he was elected to the Cyber Threat Alliance board of directors and the Massachusetts Cybersecurity Strategy Council.

Having received a bachelor’s in electrical engineering and computer science from Vanderbilt University and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School, Thomas has led an array of tech companies to the next stage of innovation. Before joining Rapid7, he was vice president of marketing at Parallels Inc., a virtualization technology company; and group project manager of Microsoft’s Server and Tools division, launching the worldwide availability of SQL Server 2005 and steering product planning for its data platform.

Top Entrepreneurs 

Chris Young

President & CEO

McAfee L.L.C.

most influential blacks in technology

In an era of cyberthreats, Christopher Young seeks to make the world more secure. As chief executive officer of McAfee L.L.C., he drives the company’s security business across hardware and software platforms and as a result, the firm generated 2017 revenues exceeding $3 billion. Through his leadership, McAfee protects mission-critical systems and data for a myriad of the world’s largest publicly traded corporations. Moreover, vast arrays of government agencies and non-governmental organizations as well as more than 400 million consumers rely on its cybersecurity solutions.

Young’s expertise has been tapped at the highest levels of government and business. For instance, he serves as a member of the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC), which advises the U.S. government on national security and emergency preparedness. He also played a key role in the establishment and governance of the nonprofit Cyber Threat Alliance—a group of companies that share intelligence in this area.

He can also be found on the boards of American Express and Snap Inc. Moreover, the Harvard M.B.A. served on the board of trustees of Princeton University, his alma mater.


Jessica O. Matthews


Uncharted Power

most influential blacks in technology

For years, Jessica Matthews has held a true passion for helping countries within the African continent. At the age of 22, the Nigerian-American innovator and entrepreneur created SOCCKET, a soccer ball that produced kinetic energy during play that could be used to power a lamp, cell phone, or other devices. The invention proved invaluable to Nigeria and other countries challenged by sporadic blackouts.

Roughly a decade later, that one invention has grown into Uncharted Power, “an energy and data technology firm that produces infrastructure solutions for communities, facilities, and the Internet of Things (IoT).” As such, it has developed an array of kinetic energy-generating vehicles like MORE (Motion-based, Off-grid Renewable Energy) and the energy-harnessing Pulse jump rope to serve major corporations and governments in Nigeria, Angola, Malawi, and Senegal, among others.  The company has more than 10-plus global patents that are either finalized or pending,

In 2016, Matthews became the first black woman to raise $7 million in a Series A financing, which was led by the NIC Fund with participation from Kapor Capital, Magic Johnson Enterprises, BBG Ventures, and Lingo Ventures. The Harvard grad has won over 25 awards, including being named the Black Enterprise Innovator of the year in 2013.


Charley Moore

CEO & Founder

Rocket Lawyer

most influential blacks in technology

Charley Moore was seeking to solve a huge problem for small businesses: an online service that would provide entrepreneurs with legal advice on an accessible and affordable platform. When he launched San Francisco-based Rocket Lawyer, Moore took a risk with his company in the beginning by offering free services. The move paid off: His venture went from 25,000 subscribers to over 1 million users. The company was growing so rapidly that the staff increased from 50 employees to 100 employees.

Moore, a former internet law and business attorney for high-power Silicon Valley law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, received $40 million in venture funding from August Capital, Google Ventures (now GV), and Investor Growth Capital between 2009 and 2013 to finance the infrastructure and operations. Today, the United States Naval Academy and University of California at Berkeley law school graduate has transformed Rocket Lawyer into an evolving, global operation that has helped more than 20 million people with their legal issues, ranging from business incorporations to estate planning as well as created more than 100,000 business contracts a month. Rocket Lawyer has also been ranked among the be 100s, the nation’s largest black-owned businesses.


Guy Primus

CEO & Founder

The Virtual Reality Co.

most influential blacks in technology

When BE wrote about Guy Primus in 2016, we reported that this innovative entrepreneur represents one of the few African Americans (perhaps the only) heading up a virtual reality content studio. As co-founder of the Virtual Reality Studio, his company announced that it raised $23 million to produce original virtual reality content and position VRC as the premier VR storyteller and industry lead. And VRC continues to break new ground. Earlier this year, it announced its deal with Universal Studios and entertainment colossus Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, launching “Jurassic World VR Expedition, an interactive cinematic virtual reality (VR) game that transports players to the visually stunning jungles of Isla Nublar, where fans will engage in an epic rescue adventure inspired by the Jurassic World film series.” The game was unveiled in June at more than 100 Dave & Buster’s entertainment centers—and as Variety reported in September, the biggest location-based VR debut ever. Moreover, VRC’s deal has been cited as “one of the most successful commercial VR partnerships for a major motion picture studio to date.”  Primus told Variety: “This will be the first time that a studio receives a 7-figure check for VR.”

Primus will continue to engage in similar partnerships with companies like motion seat maker D-Box Technologies, which helped introduce the company’s first original VR experience, an animated series, Raising a Rukus, as well as scout other family-friendly fare. His previous experience in senior-level roles such as COO of Overbrook Entertainment, director of Digital Media for Starbucks Entertainment, and group product manager at Microsoft has positioned him for such game-changing moves. Primus, who received his bachelor’s and master’s in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School, will stay plugged into the latest tech developments: He’s also the chairman emeritus of the advisory board of top-ranked School of Industrial and Systems Engineering at his alma mater.


David L. Steward


World Wide Technology

most influential blacks in technology

Through continuous innovation and forging partnerships with Cisco, Dell EMC, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard Enterprises and other tech giants, David L. Steward has built World Wide Technology into a force within the industry. In fact, he grew WWT from a small product reseller that he founded in 1990 into a technology solutions provider that can meet the networking, big data, IoT, security, and storage needs of large public and private organizations worldwide. With $10.7 billion in 2017 revenues, WWT is the nation’s largest black-owned company and one of the biggest minority suppliers in the country.

Maintaining that WWT is headquartered in “Silicon Valley in St. Louis,” Steward recently announced his company’s inclusion in Gartner’s August 2018 Market Guide for Digital Business Consulting Services “as one of the 20 Representative Vendors in DBCS across digital strategy, digital customer, and employee experience, and digital business model transformation.” To better serve customers, WWT created the Advanced Technology Center, a brick-and-mortar campus containing labs used for product demonstrations, proofs of concept, building reference architectures, and so much more.

The Clinton, Missouri, native started his career in sales before launching WWT with less than 10 employees—now, WWT has 4,000-plus employees. Steward holds a bachelor’s degree from Central Mission State University.

Top Executives

Ty Ahmad-Taylor

Vice President, Product Marketing


most influential blacks in technology

When Tyrone “Ty” Ahmad-Taylor took on the position as Facebook’s vice president of Product Marketing, members of the leadership team viewed the addition as a “big win” for its monetization strategy. In his role, he leads a team of 300 professionals engaged in product management and strategy, go-to-market plans, and financial analysis to both the advertising engineering organization and financial analysis teams—vital to the tech leader that produced 2017 global revenues of $40.7 billion.

When Facebook selected Ahmad-Taylor, the company recruited C-suite material: he previously held the position of president and CEO of THX Ltd, the innovative audio-visual company founded by Star Wars creator George Lucas. One of his groundbreaking projects was launching THX Live! during the debut of Beyoncé’s Formation World Tour. The Haverford College graduate with a B.S. in economics and an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University has also held the position of vice president of SmartTV Services at Samsung, directing global teams in the U.S. and Korea. The innovator is also founder of FanFeedr, a service he operated to provide statistics and data to sports fans, which he sold to Samsung Electronics. As an inventor, he has several patents, including a design for a system providing on-demand viewing for Comcast, and a patent for a set-top box.

He was recently appointed to the board of directors of GoPro, the digital camera producer, and continues to serve as a member of the boards of Industry Leaders for the Consumer Technology Association and not-for-profit Urbanworld Film Festival.


Ime Archibong

VP of Strategic Partnerships


most influential blacks in technology

Ime Archibong is the go-to executive to develop Facebook’s most valued strategic alliances, product integrations, and new commercial opportunities across a variety of sectors. The tech executive began his career at Facebook in November 2010 as director of partnerships, leading the team to accelerate and drive the tech giant’s product and strategies to various businesses around the world.

Since he came aboard, his role has become more expansive. Beyond media, music, and video partnerships, he travels the globe to find new means to connect millions worldwide through platforms like Facebook Groups and Messenger and initiatives to support its community of more than 9,000 developers as well as a multitude of small businesses.

Nigerian-born Archibong is extremely passionate about spreading awareness about diversity within the tech industry. He attended Yale University and studied electrical engineering and computer science. Determined to be an engineer, he gained his first opportunity at IBM and focused on licensing its global portfolio of storage research technology. After working several years at IBM, he was recruited to work at Facebook, developing strategies to help the world connect to the internet. Due to his influence and reach, Archibong, who also holds an M.B.A. from Stanford, has been recognized among the 40 under 40 Top Diverse Talent in Silicon Valley by theREGISTRY Bay Area and Digital Diversity Network.


Marc Brown

Corporate Vice President,  Corporate Development


most influential blacks in technology

Marc Brown represents one of the executives who powers the strategic direction of Microsoft. An 18-year veteran of the tech giant, which produced $110 billion in FY 2018 revenues, he oversees mergers and acquisitions and strategic investments. During his tenure, he has led more than 100 transactions collectively valued at more than $16 billion, including the acquisitions of Fast Search and Transfer, Tellme Inc., Danger Inc., Frontbridge, Softricity, and Massive Inc.

Prior to his role at Microsoft, Brown worked as a corporate lawyer at Boston-based Global 50 law firm Goodwin Procter L.L.P. as an associate in its corporate group, representing venture capital and private equity firms in structuring, analyzing, drafting, negotiating, and closing leveraged buyouts, recapitalizations, and early and later-stage venture investments for clients such as Alta Communications, TA Associates, Summit Partners, Great Hill Partners, and eCOM Partners.

Brown, who received his bachelor’s degree from Colgate University, an M.B.A. from New York University’s Stern School of Business, and a law degree from Georgetown University, had a previous stint as an investment banker at UBS.


Stacy Brown-Philpot



most influential blacks in technology

Stacy Brown-Philpot continues to be the transformative force behind TaskRabbit, a “gig economy” leader that hires freelancers for odd jobs or “Taskers” and matches them with clients. As CEO, Brown-Philpot has expanded the company’s footprint by expanding its Tasker pool to more than 60,000, raising growth capital, and developing business-building partnerships like the one it struck with tech behemoth Amazon. Last year, however, she closed a masterstroke of a deal: Swedish home products retailer Ikea acquired TaskRabbit, which now operates as an independent subsidiary. The transaction gave TaskRabbit additional resources and heightened global branding—it has already doubled its scope to 40 markets in the U.S.—while Ikea gained a much-needed digital platform and expertise. Synergies, however, are readily apparent as Ikea promotes the fact that Taskers are on hand to provide furniture assembly, among other services.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Brown-Philpot never envisioned being a part of the Silicon Valley ecosystem. The Detroit native started her professional career as an accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers and then took a job as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs. While working at the financial giant, she had the opportunity to work on tech deals. Intrigued by the growth in the industry and booming IPO activity, she attended Stanford Business School. After earning her M.B.A., she landed a role at Google. Her nine-year stint there provided the opportunity to work in India and launch Black Googlers Network, an employee resource group. A member of the be Registry of Corporate Directors, Philpot-Brown also sits on two corporate boards—Nordstrom and HP Inc.—and nonprofit Black Girls Code.


Sam Bright

Vice President & General Manager, Soft Goods, eBay North America

eBay Inc.

most influential blacks in technology

A seasoned Silicon Valley executive, Sam Bright has more than 14 years of experience in the tech space that made him well-equipped to lead the multibillion-dollar Soft Goods business unit at eBay North America. As such, he oversees the sale of an eclectic mix of merchandise: Art & Collectibles, Media, Toys & Lifestyle, Sporting Goods, and Soft Home.

His expertise spans across a range of disciplines, including strategy, investment banking, corporate development, market research, and P&L ownership.

Since joining eBay six years ago, Bright has built an impressive portfolio and generated momentum via programming with brands like Marvel, StubHub, and Verizon. He previously led eBay’s Art & Collectibles platform with more than 50 million listings, ranging from rare comic books and high-end antiques to cryptocurrencies and sports memorabilia. In 2017, his leadership grew it into a multibillion-dollar category at the e-commerce enterprise.

Prior to that role, the Taylor University and Harvard Business School graduate led and scaled the Strategic Partnerships/Business Development team for eBay’s $30 billion Americas business, where he inked over 70 product, vertical, mobile, marketing, and data partnerships over the course of two years.

He also currently serves on the board of directors at Benetech, a Palo-Alto, California-based nonprofit that develops and uses technology to drive positive social change.


Craig Cuffie

Senior Vice President and Chief Procurement Officer


most influential blacks in technology

As Senior Vice President and Chief Procurement Officer, Craig Cuffie oversees Direct and Indirect Sourcing, Procurement, Shared Services, Supplier Diversity and Data Center Fulfillment at Salesforce, the leader in customer relationship management software in the “cloud.” In that role, he and his team manage $3.5 billion of procurement spend, as Salesforce seeks to reach its revenue growth target of more than $20 billion.

Cuffie is a veteran who has been engaged in an array of assignments in the tech space. Before joining Salesforce, he served as managing director at Eagle Island Advisors, a boutique private equity firm focused on sourcing lower mid-market opportunities in the third-party logistics industry. Moreover, he’s held various senior management roles throughout the years at revolutionary companies including Jawbone, Clearwire, and Intuit. Cuffie has over 18 years of experience in aerospace and high technology companies, most notably with Quantum Inc., Lam Research Inc., and United Technologies Corp. Over time, Cuffie achieved several leadership roles in general management, business development, program and project management, manufacturing, and supply chain.

Cuffie is a member of the Executive Leadership Council, the Stanford Global Supply Chain Forum, and the Institute for Supply Management. As an adviser to numerous Silicon Valley startups, Cuffie offers coaching to help build their business. He received his master’s degree in management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.


David Drummond

Senior Vice President, Corporate Development; Chief Legal Officer; Chairman, GV and CapitalG

Alphabet Inc.

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David Drummond represents the legal powerhouse behind Alphabet Inc. and is considered one of the most powerful executives in the tech industry. In fact, Drummond, a former partner of the premier tech law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, played a major role in the transformation of how the world shares information, serving as Google’s first outside counsel and working with founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to incorporate the company and secure its initial rounds of financing. The senior vice president of corporate development and chief legal officer seeks to protect the firm in legal battles, whether dealing with Uber or the European Union, as well as oversees its investment vehicles GV (formerly Google Ventures), which led the $6.5 million Series A round financing in Blavity earlier this year, and Capital G, which has Airbnb, Snap Inc., and SurveyMonkey in its portfolio and made a $1 billion investment in the ridesharing company Lyft last year. He has also personally invested in ventures such as Ozy Media, co-founded by former CNN journalist Carlos Watson and serves on the board of Rocket Lawyer. One of be’s Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America, Drummond is an independent corporate director on the board of KKR, the nation’s largest private equity firm.

Drummond, a graduate of Santa Clara University who holds an M.B.A. from Stanford, helped initiate the company’s $32 million-plus racial justice portfolio. In April, he spoke at the Vera Institute Gala on the importance of criminal justice system reform: “If you don’t have the data, you will never change them.” Drummond also played a role in kick-starting the Hidden Genius Project with a $1 million grant as a means of getting more young black males connected to tech. In 2017, he visited Chicago to present a $1.5 million grant to native Chance the Rapper’s nonprofit and a few other organizations to help students.


Malik Ducard

Global Head of Learning, Social Impact, Family, Film & TV


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In his current role, Malik Ducard oversees and drives business development efforts for the platform’s family, entertainment, and educational partnerships and programming. This innovator joined YouTube almost eight years ago, earning the reputation for dynamic, decisive leadership that fuses tech, business, user, and social interests.

A huge literacy advocate, Ducard launched the YouTube Kids app and YouTube Learning, an effort designed to expand and enhance education on the platform. Under his stewardship, YouTube recently announced a $20 million investment in educational videos with topics ranging from school subjects to cooking, and will soon roll out the YouTube Learning Fund focused on investing in educational content creators, aka EduTubers. Moreover, he has also helped launch #YouTubeBlack, a creator-driven movement aimed at spotlighting and supporting black creators on the platform.

A Columbia University graduate, with an M.B.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles, Anderson School of Management, Ducard currently serves on the board of the Digital Diversity Network, a nonprofit trade association whose mission is to advance diversity, create access, and champion inclusion within the digital and technology sectors, and as board president of LA Makerspace, a nonprofit organization that brings STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) education to Los Angeles students.

Aicha S. Evans

Senior Vice President & Chief Strategy Officer

Intel Corp.

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As Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at Intel Corp., Aicha S. Evans leads Intel’s efforts to convert from a PC-centric company to a data-centric juggernaut. Selected one of be’s Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America, Evans manages the companywide execution for the enterprise that generated 2017 revenue of $59.4 billion.

Evans started her career at Intel in 2006, as a software integration and test manager. Over the years, she has held numerous management positions responsible for Intel’s wireless efforts, including software engineering and support for customers deploying WiMAX networks in various parts of the globe. Evans also managed Wi-Fi engineering and product lines in Israel. Evans has also served as general manager of Wireless Platform Research & Development Group.

Prior to Intel, The George Washington University graduate with a bachelor’s in computer engineering gained a decade of tech management experience in numerous roles at Rockwell Semiconductors, Conexant, and Skyworks. Evans serves as a member of the Supervisory Board at SAP SE and has served as an independent director of Autoliv Inc. from February 2015 to May 2017.


Ehrika C. Gladden

Vice President/General Manager

Cisco Refresh, a Cisco Capital Business

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Ehrika Gladden leads Cisco Refresh, the global organization for the $250 million business unit Cisco Capital. Her responsibilities include managing the delivery of the profit and loss for sales, marketing, channels, operations, and supply chain. She is also responsible for identifying growth opportunities in the multibillion-dollar remanufactured equipment market and defining the growth strategy for this next-phase startup business.

Her prowess and track record have earned her recognition and respect as an outstanding industry leader. Known as a global turnaround specialist and market disruptor, Gladden has successfully applied her commercial expertise in a range of international markets, including Europe, Africa, Middle East, Asia, and Latin America.

Prior to this role, she served as vice president for market strategy in Cisco’s $19-billion Enterprise Networking Business Unit, identifying core growth markets for the worldwide IT and networking leader.

This strong advocate for inclusion built a program to attract, retain, and promote diverse talent. As such, the initiative has resulted in three times the promotion rate for program participants and earned her multiple awards for inclusive leadership development.

Gladden, who graduated from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, currently serves as a Cisco Foundation Trustee and director for the Pennsylvania Women’s Conference Board. She is also a member of the Executive Leadership Council, the preeminent organization for black senior executives.

Xavier “X” Jernigan

Head of Cultural Partnerships


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As Head of Cultural Partnerships at Spotify, one of Xavier “X” Jernigan’s current responsibilities is to engage students via Spotify’s Opening Act HBCU Conference as a means to recruit top talent to the music streaming service from within the African American and LatinX communities. It’s a symbiotic process, as the conference provides students with varied opportunities, allowing them to see the value of applying their soft and hard skills to increase their advantage in the tech, music, and media industries.

Prior to this role, the Florida A&M University graduate served as Head of North America, Shows & Editorial at Spotify where he oversaw music programming and curation for the USA and Canada.

A pop culture expert, he was recently installed on The Kennedy Center’s Hip Hop Culture Council, a new initiative to help expand its presence at the institution and deepen public knowledge of the genre. He’s also the host of “Showstopper,” a Spotify original podcast about memorable music moments in film and television.


Arthur P. Johnson Jr.

Vice President, Corporate Development and Strategic Planning

Pure Storage Inc.

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Arthur Johnson takes point for corporate strategy and mergers and acquisitions activities, building a deal-making team that helps drive the growth of Pure Storage, the data storage leader that produced more than $1 billion in FY 2018 revenues. He orchestrated the first-ever M&A deal for the Mountain View, California-based company, completing the acquisition of StorReduce, a cloud-first software-defined storage solutions firm, in August.

Prior to this current position, Johnson drove inorganic growth at Twilio, a cloud communications platform, as vice president of Strategy, Corporate Development and Global Partnerships, and Managing Partner of TwilioFund. His previous roles include serving as operating partner at VC powerhouse Andreessen Horowitz, chief operating officer for Cisco WebEx and vice president, corporate development at Intuit. He also led Hewlett Packard’s Software Division’s Strategic Planning group.

This 20-plus year expert in strategy operations, M&A, business development, and finance received his bachelor’s degree from California State University-Los Angeles and an M.B.A. from Stanford University Business School. He launched his career in investment banking at Goldman Sachs, before engaging in a range of tech sectors such as big data, mobile and security, and application programming interfaces (APIs).


Marachel Knight

Senior Vice President, Wireless Engineering, Construction and Operations

AT&T Inc.

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Knight is accelerating AT&T’s 5G evolution, the next generation of mobile technology, which will transform business. In fact, she managed the trials to test the connectivity and speed of 5G, gauging its use for first responders within “smart cities” or smartphones video access of the company’s its DirecTVnow service. (See feature on the AT&T Business Summit, this issue.) One of be’s Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America, Knight has always had a cutting-edge role within the mammoth company. In her previous role as senior vice president of Wireless Network Architecture and Design, she was responsible for all facets of mobile device technology and tools. Throughout her 20-year career at AT&T, she has held myriad leadership positions in engineering, marketing, and technology operations,

Knight—a licensed professional engineer and certified project management professional with a master’s degree in information networking from Carnegie Mellon University and a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Florida State University—also has two patents under her belt: Systems for Use with Multi-Number Cellular Devices and Messaging Forwarding System. She received the Black Engineer of the Year President’s Award in 2013, and Women of Color Professional Achievement Award in 2014.

This innovator has also invested her time nurturing the careers of women and minorities both internally and externally. She sits on the boards of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering and After School Matters. She also served as co-founder and national advisor of AT&T Women of Technology as well as a national board advisor for oxyGEN, an AT&T employee resource group that seeks to attract, develop, and retain young professionals.


Tony Prophet

Chief Equality Officer

Salesforce Inc.

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Tony Prophet helps accelerate overall corporate strategy as chief equality officer at Salesforce. A member of the leadership team, he drives equality initiatives with a focus on LGBTQ and racial equality for the company that reported 2017 revenues of $8.4 billion. Prophet also directs its Ethical & Humane Use of Technology Innovation, ensuring optimal customer experience as well as igniting positive social change. As such, he reports directly to Chairman and co-CEO Marc Benioff.

Realizing that people are the true drivers of innovation, Prophet has been a tireless advocate for defending the rights of young workers, providing information on women’s health issues for female employees, and improving education for migrant workers’ children among other issues.

His technical and P&L background, however, has been critical in preparing him for his current position. Prior to coming aboard Salesforce, Prophet was a corporate vice president at Microsoft, where his team initiated the Windows 10 Go to Market and Launch planning. After the release of Windows 10 in 2015, it garnered more than 200 million users within six months, gaining the reputation as Microsoft’s most prosperous and fastest-growing operating system. At the time, he served as co-executive sponsor of Blacks at Microsoft and founding executive of BlackLight, an organization empowering black marketers at Microsoft. Hewlett Packard Enterprise appointed him senior vice president, Supply Chain Operations Personal Systems in 2006, and then six years later, he assumed the role of senior vice president, Operations, Printing & Personal Systems. In 2013, HP PC and Printing Operations delivered more than 100 million units, generating $55 billion in revenue and $4.8 billion in operating profit while serving as a principal driver of HPE’s $11.6 billion of cash from operations.


Troy Richardson

Senior Vice President & General Manager, Enterprise & Cloud  Application Offering Group

DXC Technology

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In his role, Troy Richardson focuses on alliance-driven enterprise solutions and next-generation cloud applications to help clients modernize and design intelligent back-office processes.  The 2017 merger of CSC and the Enterprise Services business of Hewlett Packard Enterprise spawned this $25 billion global end-to-end IT services leader. Richardson’s division is critical as DXC develops partnerships, offers guidance, and provide tools that enable customers to make decisions more efficiently as well as execute digital transformation strategies.

In his previous role, Richardson served as CSC’s general manager/global sales leader, responsible for all aspects of sales, including operations and strategic alliances.

Over the past decade, Richardson gained valuable management experience and industry contacts key to his current assignment. In 2007, he served as head of Xiocom Wireless Inc. before serving as president of Novell Americas, overseeing its sales and consulting business across the U.S., Latin America, and Canada. Prior to DXC, he held the position of senior vice president of Global Alliance Sales for Oracle in which he managed $2 billion in strategic partner sales for Oracle’s Diamond System Integration Partners and delivered triple-digit year-on-year growth in cloud revenues. He was also responsible for the growth of enterprise and mid-market segment as senior vice president of Global Cloud Sales for E&C at SAP, and bolstered sales from top global clients in manufacturing, energy, oil and gas, among others, as vice president and general manager of Global Account Sales at HP.


Scott Taylor

EVP, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary

Symantec Corp.

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Scott Taylor began his career at Symantec in 2007, and quickly moved up to general counsel in 2008. In his current role, he leads a global team of 143 professionals for the software giant and oversees its intellectual property portfolio, government affairs, public policy, corporate responsibility, and philanthropic work.

The Stanford University and George Washington University Law School graduate has gained vast experience working at other tech companies including Phoenix Technologies Ltd. He was previously chief administrative officer and senior vice president of Phoenix Technologies Ltd. and vice president and general counsel of Narus Inc.

Besides demonstrating superior legal chops for the company that generated $4 billion in 2017 revenues, Taylor is a staunch advocate of corporate diversity, pushing for more black talent at Symantec and within the tech sector as a whole. For instance, he serves as the executive champion and sponsor of SyBER, Symantec’s Black Employee Resource Group.

He also sits on the corporate board of Piper Jaffray and a national advisory board of the Stanford University Center for Comparative Studies on Race and Ethnicity.


Toni Townes-Whitley

President, U.S. Regulated Industries


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Toni Townes-Whitley leads the U.S. sales strategy for driving digital transformation across customers and partners within the public sector and regulated industries. She’s the highest-ranking African American female executive at Microsoft with responsibility for approximately $11 billion P&L and 2,000-plus sales professionals. As such, she has developed a strong, undisputed track record for accelerating profitable business performance and building high-performance teams.

Her organization is responsible for executing on Microsoft’s market-focused strategy related to the U.S. public sector and regulated industries, including education, financial services, government, and health.

In addition to leading this team, Townes-Whitley drives the formation of Microsoft’s worldwide AI National Plans and represents the global salesforce on the tech giant’s Aether Committee (AI and Ethics in Engineering and Research), which recommends policies and procedures to address the implications of AI on society.

The Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School graduate also serves as a co-executive sponsor for the Blacks and Africans Employee Resource Group at Microsoft; an adviser to the Women’s Center of Northern Virginia; and a past president of Women in Technology.


Wanji Walcott

Senior Vice President & General Counsel

PayPal Holdings Inc.

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As senior vice president and general counsel at PayPal, Walcott has been responsible for building a legal team of more than 170 professionals across the globe. As such, she directs them to tackle legal issues in more than 200 markets, dealing with an expansive regulatory environment in the U.S. and abroad given the San Jose-based online payment company’s innovative thrust.

Since joining PayPal in 2015 as vice president of Legal Product, she has risen up the ranks to become the company’s first African American general counsel. A member of the company’s executive leadership team and industry influencer, Walcott was also named one of be’s Most Powerful Executives last year.

These days, she has also been focused on identifying initiatives to foster a more diverse and inclusive corporate culture. As such, her staunch advocacy in this area has recently been making headlines. In fact, she serves as the executive sponsor for PayPal’s women’s interest network, Unity, and helped launch Amplify, PayPal’s black employee network.

Walcott has more than 20 years of legal experience, particularly in fintech and payments law. Prior to PayPal, Walcott, who holds a bachelor’s and a law degree from Howard University and law school graduate served as senior vice president and managing counsel at American Express Co. At Amex, where she worked as lead counsel for its Enterprise Growth Group, developing the global strategy to expand emerging and digital payments services. She is also a member of the Executive Leadership Council.

Edward Ward

Senior Vice President of Engineering Client Solutions

Dell Inc.

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Edward Ward leads a worldwide team of engineers and technical professionals who handle engineering and development of commercial PCs and workstations, consumer PCs, platform software, data security software, and IoT solutions.

A member of be’s Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America, Ward gained decades of management experience before tackling his current position. At NCR Corp, he held the position of vice president of Engineering Shared Components & Technical Services, responsible for worldwide engineering and development of the hardware, firmware, and software drivers for shared components across NCR’s financial, retail, and travel lines of business.

As vice president of Engineering Technical Services & NCR University Relations from November 2009 to May 2011, he focused on cost reduction, field quality improvement, and enhancing design review processes across all of NCR’s product lines. Ward also maximized NCR’s University Relations program to develop and encourage technical collaboration, R&D, internships, and community outreach programs to fundamental research and engineering institutions. Committed to inspiring African American youth’s interest and engagement in STEM education, Ward is a member of the local chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers and executive sponsor at Dell for the national organization.


Tony West

Chief Legal Officer

Uber Technologies Inc.

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As chief legal officer at Uber, West leads a global team of more than 500 in the company’s Legal, Compliance and Ethics, and Security functions.

With more than 20 years of experience in the public and private sectors, West joined Uber as the peer-to-peer ridesharing company dealt with major reputational challenges.  He previously served as corporate secretary and executive vice president of Public Policy and Government Affairs of PepsiCo, where he prioritized diversity and ethical practices and led PepsiCo to be named one of the most ethical companies by the Etisphere Institute 10 years in a row.

From 2012 to 2014, the Obama administration appointee served as Associate Attorney General of the United States, the third highest-ranking official in the U.S. Department of Justice. In that role, he supervised the department’s Civil Rights, Antitrust, Tax, Environment and Natural Resources, and Civil Divisions, as well as the Office of Justice Programs, the Office on Violence Against Women, and Community Oriented Policing Services Office. From 2009 to 2012, he was Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Division, the largest litigating division of the Justice Department. In fact, Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, tapped the Stanford Law School graduate due to his experience as a federal prosecutor and commitment to corporate ethics and diversity.


Kareem Yusuf

General Manager, Watson IoT

IBM Corp.

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Kareem Yusuf prepares customers for the future today. He leads Watson IoT—Internet of Things—the IBM business unit focused on helping clients in asset-intensive industries. The Watson IoT is a cognitive system that learns from and infuses intelligence into the physical world. As such, his team helps clients transform their enterprises by maximizing value from their connected assets, leveraging insights, and AI.

The 19-year IBM veteran has held a variety of leadership positions within the tech giant that produced 2017 revenues of $79 billion. His prior position was chief product & technology officer, Watson Customer Engagement in which he helped drive digital marketing, commerce, and supply chain success using cognitive technology. He has also worked with software development and SaaS operations, mergers & acquisitions, and field technical sales.

With a doctorate from the University of Leeds (England) focused on decision support systems for civil engineering construction, Yusuf admits to having “an active interest in all things technical, with a particular interest in digital media and programming languages.” He is also an author and a TED speaker. In fact, his TED Talk focused on the importance of emotional tone in the digital age, including everything from email to data.