Black History Month in Automotive Industry | African American Automotive History

In honor of Black History Month, we would like to highlight some of the greatest achievements African Americans have made to the automotive industry, and how we continue to enjoy the excellence of these fellow inventors, engineers, and racing prodigies. Black History Month is vital to remembering and honoring the legends that have built what we take for granted today. 

Homer Roberts: First African American Car Dealership Owner


Homer Roberts was a pioneer to the advancement of African American society by exclusively brokering deals to many first time African American car buyers, and subsequently built his business from 7 used cars to a Ford frachise dealer of 60 cars. Homer Roberts not only became the first African American dealership owner, but led the industry in sales for Rickenbacker, an American automobile manufacturer based out of detroit.


Homer Roberts Automotive Owner
Homer Roberts Dealership

Pictured here is the very first African American owned car dealership, which Homer Roberts then went on to build out to a Ford franchise showroom, service and parts department, body shop, and even a gas station. Not only was he first, Homer Roberts led the nation in Hupmobile and Rickebacker sales in the 1920's.


C.R. Patterson: Founder of World's First African American Automotive Company


Many do not know of the legend of C.R. Patterson, the only known African American founder of an automotive company. C.R. Patterson & Sons Company was founded in 1893, after a partnership with J.P. Lowe in the carriage-making business. C.R. Patterson is the epitome of rags to riches, as he was born a slave in a West Virginia plantation in 1833. After escaping to Ohio in 1862, C.R. Patterson began to learn blacksmith trade skills that would then develop into the automotive trade he took upon later in life. C.R. Patterson & Sons were direct competitors to newly established Ford, and without the same funding, C.R. Patterson switched his focus to manufacture trucks, buses, and other utility vehicles. C.R. Patterson & Sons became the go to brand for buses in midwestern school districts that had recently converted from horse-drawn carriages in 1920.


CR Patterson Automotive
CR Patterson Bus

The C.R. Patterson & Sons Company bus made headway in helping school districts across the country convert from traditional horse drawn carriages to one of the first every combustion engine vehicles, and led the way to the transportation we see in businesses and schools today.


Charlie Wiggins: African American Racing Legend


Born a dreamer, Charlie Wiggins began his childhood shining shoes in front of an auto repair shop in the early 1900's. One day he was invited in to help work in the auto repair shop, and a few years later he became chief mechanic as many left to fight in World War 1. Charlie Wiggins then moved to Indiana in 1922 where he opened his own garage and began pursuing his racing dream. Segregated from the Indy 500, Charlie Wiggins and other African American drivers began their own racing league, which drew a crowd of 12,000 in their first debut race in 1924. Over his extensive racing career, Charlie Wiggins won 3 Gold and Glory Sweepstake Championships. He then used his fame to speak against segregation in the automotive industry, quickly becoming a KKK target. Charlie Wiggins honorably kept pursuing African American participation in racing until he passed away at the age of 82.


Charlie Wiggins Racer
Charlie Wiggins Racecar

Pictured is Charlie Wiggins racing in his racecar named "the Wiggins Special", a vehicle he built in his own garage using salvaged junkyard parts. Shockingly, it was this same vehicle he managed to win several races in and established him as one of the first African American racecar drivers.


Wendell Scott: African American NASCAR Legend


Wendell Scott served in the segregated army in World War 2 and came back to establish an auto repair shop. Wendell had inherited his love for automotive from his father who worked as a driver for wealthy families. Once Wendell came back from the war he found himself illegally running whiskey in the backroads of Virginia until he was caught in 1949. After his stint running moonshine, Wendell Scott started attending local stockcar races where he soon found his true passion was in racing, and began to find his way into the racing scene. Wendell Scott became the first African American to race in NASCAR, and finished top 10 in 147 of his races. His life path was so legendary that his racing career was made into the movie Greased Lightening.


Wendell Scott Racer
Wendell Scot Racecar

Wendell Scott was first banned from competing in NASCAR because of the color of his skin. He was persistent however, and continues to dominate smaller stockcar races until eventually he was accepted into NASCAR as the first licensed African-American NASCAR driver.


Garret Morgan: Traffic Safety Pioneer


Garrett Morgan is inventor of one of the most important pieces of technology we use in our daily commute to this day. Before Garret Morgan had a hand in the traffic management space, traffic lights used to switch from green to red without warning. It was Garret Morgan who introduced the yellow traffic signal, and ended up becoming one of the biggest contributors to automotive safety on the roads today.


Garret Morgan

George Washington Carver: Bio-Fuel Inventions in Automotive


George Washington Carver may be familiar to some for his inventions in science and technology, but what many do not remember is the significance he had in the beginning of the automotive industry. Long time companion of Henry T. Ford, Carver worked with Ford to create a rubber material from Goldenrod that would become the main product for tires. His research went on to fuel several other automotive initiatives, and we are thankful for the hand he had in building automotive components for the industry.


George Carver Automotive

Richard B. Spikes: Inventor of the Turning Signal


Still strange technology to some, Richard B. Spikes was a highly successful African American engineer that patented the technology for the first ever turn signals. Additionally, Spikes continued to invent other automotive safety components such as safety brakes and even an automatic car washer.


Richard B Spikes