February is a month of celebration. It’s a time to collectively reflect on the rich history and contributions of Black people, celebrating accomplishments that have been a driving force in our nation’s success.
In honor of Black History Month, Flagship is celebrating the pioneers who paved their way into history, shaping the automotive industry into what it is today and what it can be in the future.
One such pioneer is Homer Roberts, the first African American Dealer Principal. Roberts began selling cars in 1919 after moving to Kansas City seeking work as an electrical engineer. It wasn’t long until he purchased a two-story building in 1923 that became known as the Roberts Building. In addition to a garage and showroom for Roberts’ “Motor Mart,” it housed a restaurant, several shops, and offices. By 1928, Roberts retailed over $2 million of inventory. Since Roberts’ Motor Mart, there have been thousands of successful Black-owned dealers, many of whom are recognized by the industry as the most successful dealers in the country.
Richard Spikes, an inventor in the early 1900s, had more than a dozen patents to his name. Of his many inventions, his most well-known and successful are those in the realm of automotive technology. Spikes’ innovations are still found on every vehicle manufactured today. One of Spikes’ innovations included a technology that kept the gears for different speeds in constant mesh, eventually leading to the development of the automatic transmission. Spikes, understanding the need for advancements in safety, patented the turn signal in the 1910s. An inventor throughout his life, one of the last patents he received was at the age of 84 for the creation of an automatic brake safety system, issued in 1962.
Garrett Morgan, the first Black person to own a car in Cleveland, Ohio, witnessed a carriage accident at an intricate intersection. This experience inspired him to develop the three-light traffic signal, still used today, by creating a yellow warning light alerting drivers when they need to prepare to stop. Morgan acquired patents for the traffic signal in the United States, Britain, and Canada, and eventually sold the rights to General Electric.
This month and every month, we celebrate the vast contributions Black people have made to our industry and our country.