All Aboard: Black History Month

All Aboard,

Written by ACT's DE&I Committee

Welcome to All Aboard. Brought to you by the members of ACT’s DE&I Committee, this content strives to highlight people and their stories in a more holistic approach to show how these contributions move our industry forward. Our first post is in honor of Black History Month. Learn about Granville T. Woods, the Safe Bus Company, and Lois Cooper in this month’s spotlight.

Black History Month

Black History Month commemorates the contributions to the United States by those of African descent. First celebrated as Black History Month in February 1926, it was expanded to the entire month of February in 1976 as part of the nation’s bicentennial. 

It is well-known that many Black and African Americans have impacted the transportation industry.  You likely know Garret Morgan who invented the stoplight and the renowned Rosa Parks who sparked the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, but there’s always more to learn.  This month, we will feature a few contributions to transportation by Black / African American leaders who you may not know.

Granville T. Woods

Granville T. Woods was born in Columbus, Ohio and formed the Woods Railway Telegraph Company 1884. His company manufactured telephone and telegraph equipment, but he was best known for his electrical equipment which included a patented system for overhead electric conducting lines for railroads in 1888. Woods created a method of supplying electricity to a train without any exposed wires or secondary batteries, approximately every 12 feet which allowed electricity to flow to the train as it passed over an iron block. Woods also developed the third rail concept allowing a train to receive more electricity while encountering less friction. Ultimately, Woods obtained more than 50 patents for inventions including an automatic brake and improvements to already-existing rail components. 

Learn more about Granville T. Woods

The Safe Bus Company

The Safe Bus Company was operated in Winston-Salem, North Carolina by a team of 21 Black jitney operators assembled to provide bus service to underserved Black neighborhoods. It was an immediate success and grew to more than 8,000 passengers being serviced by 80 drivers each day and when Winston-Salem’s bus carrier departed the city, the Safe Bus Company became the largest Black-owned transportation business in the world. Eventually, the Winston-Salem Authority purchased the Safe Bus Company and it became a part of city-run transportation services.

Learn more about the Safe Bus Company

Lois Cooper 

Lois Cooper attended college in Los Angeles, California and first made history by becoming the first Black woman transportation engineer to be hired in the Engineering Department at the Division of Highways, now known as California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), in 1953. Not only was she the first Black woman in California to pass the Professional Engineers (PE) license exam, but she was first female director of the First Diamond Lane, the predecessor to carpool lanes. Ms. Cooper passed away in 2014, but her impact continues through The Lois Cooper Scholars Program at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville whose aim is to increase the number of underrepresented students in STEM. 

Learn more about Lois Cooper

The members of ACT’s DE&I Committee would like to encourage everyone across the industry to attend celebrations and educational programs throughout the month and explore further resources to expand their own learning and understanding of the history, cultures, and experiences of Black and African Americans. And if the Lois Cooper Scholars Program was of interest to you, check out ACT’s Technology and Innovation Council

Looking ahead…As we prepare for Women’s History Month in March, please reach out to share any relevant events or people who could be highlighted, or if you have thoughts for other notable events in March.