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Baker’s List: How One Patent Examiner Used History to Fight Racism [Online]
July 6, 2022 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pmFree
A lawyer, assistant patent examiner, and civil rights activist, Henry E. Baker (1857–1928) compiled the first list of African American patentees in the 1880s and was releasing updated versions into the 1920s. The project wasn’t easy. How do you research a topic—the races of patentees—for which no official record exists? This talk uncovers Baker’s ingenious approach to historical research and his impact on the early civil rights movement. Baker’s list was proof of African American ingenuity in an era when segregationists told anyone who would listen that Black people couldn’t be inventors, couldn’t contribute to society, and therefore shouldn’t have the vote. To refute these racist aspersions and arguments, civil rights leaders such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington put Baker’s list to good use. They printed, reprinted, and distributed it far and wide, making it one of the most important artifacts of the ongoing struggle for racial justice in the United States.
Adam Bisno is the historian of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). He creates historical content for the agency’s publications, maintains the agency’s institutional history, and serves as the designated USPTO authority on the history of the agency and the American IP system. He holds a PhD in history from Johns Hopkins University, an MPhil in history from the University of Cambridge, and a BA in history from Swarthmore College.
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