Celebrating the Legacy of Otis Boykin
I was educated in a school system highly recognized as one of the best in the state, if not the entire country. Yet, like many, I was never taught about Sarah Breedlove (Madame C. J. Walker) or Elijah McCoy (The Real McCoy). I didn’t know of Garrett Morgan and didn’t hear about NASA’s Katherine Johnson. These men and women never made it onto our biography lists. The contributions of these, and many other, Black Americans were simply not celebrated and taught in school.
When I think of these names, I can’t help but think about the many names that we see listed in the Bible as well. Since all scripture is God-breathed and profitable for reproof, correction, and for training in righteousness, that we may be complete, (2 Tim. 3:16-17), we should affirm that God meant for these names of real people who lived and died to be read and recognized.
It would be reasonable to consider doing the same for these men and women who are left out of many of our nation’s curriculum. One in particular, is Otis Boykin.
Who Is Otis Boykin?
Otis Boykin was born on August 29, 1920. His mother, Sarah, died of heart complications before he was a year old. He was valedictorian of his 1938 graduating class at Booker T. Washington high school in Dallas, Texas then launched his career in electrical engineering. After graduation from Nashville’s Fisk University in 1941, he began working on a number of worthwhile projects. One of those projects was a wire precision resistor that enabled manufacturers to accurately designate a value of resistance for an individual piece of wire in electronic equipment. The technology, which is hard to even understand in writing, earned Otis his first patent in 1959.
Staking a Place in History
It’s been written that Otis’ was motivated by the sudden loss of his mother (while an infant) to develop a control unit that would regulate the heartbeat in patients with dynamic changes in heart rhythm. As history would have it, Otis Boykin’s device became the centerpiece of the control unit needed for the artificial heart pacemaker.
If you’re not familiar with a pacemaker, it is a life-saving device. Pacemakers send electrical pulses to help the heart beat at a normal rate and rhythm. Pacemakers can also be used to help the heart chambers beat in sync so the heart can pump blood more efficiently to the body.
Without Otis Boykin’s work, these life-saving devices wouldn’t work either. Millions of lives have been extended, and yes, saved thanks to this patent, and the twenty-five others, that Otis Boykin developed. He helped create transistor radios, guided munitions, televisions, and computers—just to name a few.
Otis is one of the hundreds of Black inventors whose life’s work has been largely overlooked, but his impact cannot be missed. His 26 patents for electronic devices are quiet reminders that each of us can make loud differences in the lives of those around us.
Let us thank God for the life of Otis Boykin and all those he represents. Perhaps, in doing so, we can pave the way for a future in which we better celebrate how God uses men and women of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds to reflect his heart for the world.