The Black Impact: GM grants Automotive Hall of Fame $500,000 for mobility education  

Dr. Micala “Cila” Evans, left, will help to create a holistic narrative about African Americans and mobility through a GM grant for the Automotive Hall of Fame. Over the past year, the Automotive Hall of Fame (AHF) established a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, led by Hiram Jackson, center AHF board member and chief executive officer of Real Times Media and the publisher of the Michigan Chronicle. AHF President Sarah Cook wants to shed light on the Black influence throughout the mobility industry. 

Detroit is known worldwide for its indelible role as the birthplace of the automobile and its beloved, rightful nickname, “Motown,” carries an ever-present reminder of that legacy and transportation movement impact, which continues to bear witness from generation to generation.  

Black contributions to the global automotive industry are just a part of that story as Henry Ford was, among other giants who transformed the transportation world – but it’s time for the former to be recognized just as much as the latter has always been.  

The Automotive Hall of Fame (AHF), a non-profit organization that honors and celebrates the mobility industry’s pioneers and their impact on society, will soon make that possible after recently receiving a $500,000 grant from General Motors (GM) to launch a new educational program.  

Named, “Black Innovation, Invention, and Leadership in Mobility,” the grant enables the AHF to begin developing a multi-channel experience that helps educate the community about Black contributions to the global automotive industry as well as the industry’s impact on Black families and communities.   

“The Automotive Hall of Fame is extremely grateful to General Motors for this generous grant to launch this important initiative,” said Sarah Cook, president of the Automotive Hall of Fame in a press release. “There are many voices that have shaped – and continue to shape – the mobility industry, and we are excited to begin the work to tell their important stories.”   

The Automotive Hall of Fame, a non-profit organization that celebrates the mobility industry’s pioneers and their impact on society through stories, engagement and more, was founded in 1939 and is located at 21400 Oakwood Blvd in Dearborn.   

The AHF previously honored nearly 800 individuals from around the world who have impacted and influenced the automotive and mobility industries.   

The opportunity to give the Black community their flowers is not always there due to massive underrepresentation when telling the automotive industry’s history – the GM grant makes that opportunity more seamless to help lift Black voices and increase awareness of their industry-related impact.   

“GM is proud to support the Automotive Hall of Fame as it launches its “Black Innovation, Invention, and Leadership in Mobility” program,” said Terry Rhadigan, AHF board member and vice president of Corporate Giving at GM. “AHF’s efforts to create and share knowledge will spark social change through general education and promote new learning and career opportunities for our next generation of mobility leaders and influencers.”   

Content development for this program is funded by the grant for one year, and the AHF is targeting a launch date of February 2023. The AHF will utilize both its physical exhibit space and digital capabilities to share the new content. In addition to the exhibit, there will be educational programming for a K-12 audience and an honoree lecture series. AHF is seeking community involvement, as well as additional funding, to bring a robust program to the public.   

“We plan to highlight several key aspects of Black contributions that created the industry, including the labor, invention, design, engineering and leadership that created the modern automotive manufacturing industry,” said Cook. “The program will explore how mobility, vehicle ownership and roadways have impacted Black communities in Detroit, throughout the country and around the world, and will focus on first-hand oral histories of Black leaders, both historic and contemporary.”   

Over the past year, the AHF established a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, led by Hiram Jackson, AHF board member, chief executive officer of Real Times Media and the publisher of the Michigan Chronicle.   

“Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is a priority for the Automotive Hall of Fame. Not just as it relates to inductees but on our board, in our staff and in the programming we create,” said Jackson, who doesn’t beat around the bush with a lack of diversity-related initiatives around the automotive industry. “I won’t pretend that we’re proud of our past around diversity. But what I can assure you is that the way forward will be starkly different. This initiative is just an exciting first step of many demonstrating the organization’s commitment to ensure people of color are properly represented as part of the fabric of the automotive industry.”   

Cook told the Michigan Chronicle that the AHF set out to build an exhibit with wrap-around educational experiences that highlight Black innovation, invention and leadership in the automotive industry.    

“This project is part of AHF’s overall DEI mission and purpose, as outlined by the AHF DEI Committee, is to assess and develop a cohesive course of action for diversity and inclusion at the AHF. As assessed by AHF’s DEI Committee, African Americans are under-represented as awardees in AHF and the story of the contributions of African Americans to the automotive industry has historically been omitted,” she said, adding that the project, interpretation and curation needed a “strong partner” to provide the financial resources to launch.  

“GM shares our desire to tell these stories and understands our institution’s need to acknowledge our past omissions and to repair or build the relationship between African Americans and AHF,” Cook said.  

The gift enabled the hiring of Kathleen Donald, vice president of AHF operations and programs. The GM grant also enabled AHF to hire an esteemed scholar of African American Studies and an experienced researcher and curator in African American communities, Dr. Micala “Cila” Evans, who will also help to create a holistic narrative about African Americans and mobility.   

“I am thrilled to have been chosen as curator for this impressive initiative to keep stories of African American discovery and achievement alive, from the early days of the horseless carriage to the modern era of mobility,” said Dr. Evans. “While we will celebrate these stories in the context of their own time and place, we will also relate them to the here and now and beyond. We want to bring this vision of progress to our international inductee community, our museum visitors, students/young adults, policymakers and a more general global audience.”    

The project requires a large up-front investment to build the initial exhibits and educational content that will be available onsite and online, Cook confirmed. The program will be ongoing as permanent exhibits, content and more are interwoven in K-12 curriculum and museum programs developed by AHF. Also, the costs associated with the upkeep of exhibits, education programs and staff to support continued research will be rolled into the AHF’s annual budget and be a part of AHF general operations.     

“This initiative is part of the overall re-imagination of the Automotive Hall of Fame and how we tell the story of the automotive industry’s history, impact on society and ongoing challenges in mobility,” Cook told the Michigan Chronicle, adding that onsite and online storytelling will be used and digital elements will be critical. “We plan to utilize our website as a central part of our digital footprint online as we deliver lesson plans, learning activities and other curricula as well as interactive exploration of the major themes of Black Innovation, Invention, and Leadership in Automotive.”  

Onsite, AHF is exploring digital mapping, augmented reality, virtual reality, and hologram technology as well as touch screen and displays that encourage you to “bring your own device” for a deeper dive.    

The AHF will also highlight names from more recent history and individuals that are currently shaping mobility:   

  • Frederick and Charles Patterson, a father and son carriage company who switched to making cars and sold their first automobile in 1915, then went on to produce buses.    
  • Charlie Wiggins   
  • Alma and Victor Green   
  • Ed Davis   
  • Ed Welburn   
  • Roy Roberts   

“All of the above are awardees of AHF and have made incredible contributions to mobility,” Cook said, adding that there has been a historical, systemic “omission” and “exclusion” of the Black contribution to mainstream history. “The AHF aspires to identify and share the true story of the automotive industry and highlight all the diverse individuals and stories that have had a profound impact on the past, present and future of this amazing industry and society as a whole.”    

Other historical names around mobility include:   

Frederick McKinley Jones – refrigerated truck and air conditioner   

Garret Morgan – the three-position traffic light   

Richard Spikes – automatic gear shift and brake testing.    

Lewis Latimer (not Thomas Edison) – invented and held the patent for the carbon filament that makes the light bulb light   

Charles Brooks – inventor of the street sweeper   

John Burr – invented the lawn mower   

George Washington Carver – held many patents, and the one for synthetic rubber during WW2, which replaced wooden or steel tires, for the tightly pressured air rubber tires we put on all of our vehicles today   

Alice Parker – invented the heating furnace   

The Automotive Hall of Fame is open to the public 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Thursdays – Sundays.  

For more information visit www.automotivehalloffame.org.  

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