Eli Whitney Ain’t Black

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Every once in a while, something comes along that just flat-out surprises me. This most recent surprise comes courtesy of the fact that there seem to be a whole lot of people who think Eli Whitney was Black.  Frankly, I don’t understand how anybody could have that misconception.  Or maybe put a little milder, I never thought he was.  Number one, I just never thought he was from the get-go, but if I went so far as to think about it logically, there’s no way the inventor of the cotton gin would have been Black.  Not because a Black man couldn’t or wouldn’t have thought of it, but because at that time in American history, what Black man would get credit for having invented anything?

Did anybody else think Eli Whitney was Black?



36 Responses to “Eli Whitney Ain’t Black”
  1. BH says:

    For some reason I’ve always thought he was black. I also always thought he invented the cotton Gin, to ease the suffering of slaves, but it had the opposite effect, making Slave owner ship even more lucrative, which of course accelerated the institution. Not uncommon for an inventor to not fully understand economics.

  2. Roc says:

    I never knew he had a “n” in his last name. All these years I’ve been calling him Eli “Whitey”! :)

  3. I think I remember hearing that he was and being a little surprised. I had never assumed he was black as a kid.

  4. i knew he wasn’t black. but it isn’t because black people weren’t credited with anything. remember george washington carver? the more logical explanation is that the type of black person with the skills to design machinery was most likely either not in the south, or was engaged in some other activity–perhaps pursuing higher education.

  5. Kimberly in B'more says:

    I did think and in fact was taught Eli Whitney was black. I don’t know why I was taught this fallacy.

    Last week and today in a clg history class I was told and we had to have the professor google it for I was not alone to get us to believe he was not black.

    I am however relieved since with this cotton (en)gin(e) he paved the way for the expansion of slavery west. This is one invention I’d gladly give away.

  6. MissMona says:

    I also grew up believing he was Black. When I started teaching, I heard he was white. Searching the net doesn’t clear it up.

  7. dw says:

    My dad just told me Eli Whitney was not a black man. I learned he was in school. I even remember the picture in the history book of him. What is up with that??

  8. Derrik says:

    It’s one of those things that comes up every now and again. I live in and grew up in Milwaukee, WI. For the record my brother, my sister, and myself were ALL taught in school that Eli Whitney was a black man. It wasn’t a matter of “yeah, he’s black” by simply looking at the picture in the textbook. There never WAS a picture from what I recall. But for years I blindly trusted that what they taught us in school was true(go figure). I doubt that governed schooling ever does this kind of thing intentionally or with any agenda in mind…(ha).

  9. donna says:

    I teach hs history and I’ve found that in the 60s and 70s this idea started up as an irony… “Isn’t it ironic that a black man invented the machine that made slavery properous again…” It stuck in the heads of the people who are now the teachers. Almost all of my students learned this factoid (false) from an elementary school teacher. Love them for teaching the little ones, but their background in history usually comes from their own highschool teachers… not college or scholarship.

    My students are always shocked when we look up Whitney’s background.

  10. Tanya says:

    I was never taught that he was black. I do remember being taught that a black man actually invented the cotton gin, but Eli Whitney took the credit for the invention. I never remember seeing any photos of Eli Whitney in the textbooks though.

  11. Billy says:

    Eli Whitney is black so blow that smoke up someone’s elese’s ass!!!!!!

  12. Ms. Angela says:

    I showed a picture of Eli Whitney durning Black istory Month to my class (I teach pre-shcool and they are 3 years old), and one of my students said this is black history month and that man is white we have to have him for white history month.

  13. Avery is right, the misinformation is because an African slave came up with the idea for the cotton gin. Somehow this weird story came out from this.
    When I was in school in the 60′s, the story was there. I think it’s a product of the early 70′s.

    I don’t know why this continues, there are plenty of black inventors that should get the attention

  14. Ron Wimbish says:

    Eli Whitney received a U.S. patent for his refined cotton gin in 1794 after stealing the idea from a black man. Blacks in those days didn’t get credit for inventing anything.

    So when you hear that the cotton Gin was invented by a black man you hear right. But that is not to confuse Eli Whitney as a black slave.

    It only takes one drop of black blood to be a black man. (One drop theory)

  15. I’m sorry, but my African-American history professor told me that Eli Whitney was black on Monday. She is definitely white. But is Eli Whitney white for real, for real?

  16. Avery says:

    nah, young. eli whitney was not black. no jive. definitely dig your handle, though. i used to sometimes play around and call myself dj such-and-such

  17. marvin james says:

    hell naw he was’nt black……………
    but he wuz’nt tha one who invented the cotton gin it was his slave……… and since eli owned his slave eli took credit for it

  18. lola says:

    I was also taught in school he was black. I believe it is now that some are stating he was white. How is it that several people who did not attend the same school was taught he was black.

    I recently saw a picture of how some museums have rubbed of the paint of Kemetian(Egyptian) structures to make them appear white. Thus, if this continues and the next generation maybe they were white.

  19. bw says:

    I think I thought he was black because of the KRS-One/BDP song You Must Learn; there is a part where he name-checks a whole series of black inventors and innovators (Benjamin Banaker, Charles Drew, Madame CJ Walker, etc.), and Eli Whitney is on the list…

  20. Beverly says:

    As a child, I had not been aware that Eli Whitney, nor George Washington Carver, for that matter, were black men. I learned about their inventions and admired that, being of a scientific mind myself. It wasn’t until much later that I was told that both these men were black, and shown pictures…however, today, in my search for information about Black History Month for my “Teens and Tweens” library program, it would appear from the photograph on the cover of a book in Amazon.com, that Eli Whitney is NOT black–unless one subscribes to the “one-drop theory”, or the whitification of portraits (I wonder at the likelihood of his even having sat for a portrait if he were black, in those days)…if any black person had actually invented the cotton gin (which I certainly believe to have been possible), it probably is better for him that Eli Whitney were NOT a black man, as the invention increased the demand for slave labor. More efficient means of separating fiber from the seeds, etc, meant more cotton could be produced, so more cotton needed to be PICKED! Enough of my ramblings…I need to solve this mystery–was he or wasn’t he? And, while I am at it…I shall have to check on the other men, as well…the truth shall set you free.

  21. Barbara says:

    I was taught in school that he was black, go fiqure!

  22. todd says:

    The inventor could have been black and still had increased productivity in mind. There were actually thousands of free blacks who owned slaves.

  23. Lori says:

    I thought he was black too and when I found out I might be distantly related to him I was kinda shocked. Now that I realize he was white it makes sense and quite honestly, I am a little disappointed. LOL.

  24. Sylvia says:

    I had 2 white young men over to dinner Sunday, and one of them told me Eli Whitney was black. This was news to me, so I looked it up online. I found your site by googling.

    Anyway, not black. I never thought he was, either. I think the young man at my dinner table was swayed by a man who claimed to be a historian. The other young man also made a few racist claims that I won’t repeat here, because I really don’t expect I will see that kid again, nor do I want to see him. I would like to throttle him, however.

  25. J says:

    Ha! I had been taught in school, by both African American and Anglo teachers, that Eli Whitney was African American. Go figure. I was googling to find out why Wikipedia didn’t mention his race or ethnicity as anything other than “the son of English immigrants” when I found this post.

  26. Daniel says:

    I have always been taught that Eli Whitney was a black man. Just last week I was listening to a radio station talking about black history month. The host talked mentioned some important figures in black history and Eli Whitney was one of his choices. It took about ten minutes for someone to call in saying Eli Whitney was white, and a quick internet search by the people at the station confirmed. I’m a senior in high school (on my way to being valedictorian) and that was a seriously embarrassing revelation. I had to do an internet search to find out how many other people had thought this — that’s how I found this article.

  27. Concerned Citizen says:

    Eli Whitney was most probably Black and subjected to lack of respect, as in like modern times. “Plus de choses changent, plus de choses restent les memes.”

  28. truth be told says:

    alot of you are forgetting that during those times a lot of race mixing went on even though it was looked down upon. also many blacks that where light skinned enough to pass for white did and many who got the chance did just that.

    Example the Monticello slave plantation where visitors couldn’t tell the difference many times between the whites who worked there and the slaves who worked there because half of them appeared to be white. so lets keep a open mind here am i saying he was white or black nooooooooooooooo!!!!!! .

    could he have been mixed and raced as a free man and owned slaves yes he could have. Examples Walter white,anotyle boyard,jennifer beal, lawrence dennis and may i add lawrence dennis lived his whole adult life as a white man and worked with the nazi’s and didnt tell people he was black until he died.




  29. Chiriqui says:

    I recently came accross your web site and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my very first comment. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this website very frequently.

  30. Deep3172 says:

    Whiney was not black. the Concept came from a slave name Sam. Sam’s father had solved the critical problem of removing seeds from cotton by developing a kind of comb to do the job. Whitney’s cotton gin simply mechanized this comb.

  31. Lzzlie says:

    Back about 30 years ago, there was a commercial on public t.v that said he was black. There was also one that explained black people as being black because of the exposure to sun (had a lot of little cartoon babies crawling around on a globe).

  32. READ says:

    I was surprised to learn that Eli Whitney was white. Because the history books i used during my “education” said he was BLACK. The history books i learned from said a SLAVE invented the cotton gin. I looked on wikipedia and was shocked that there is no mention of a black man inventing the cotton gin. Why does this discrepancy exist? I will tell you why. Because they don’t want to give any credit to a nigger for inventing something useful!! Legislators in Arizona have already deemed that contributions by people of color have no place in curricula. Yeah!! Its that simple!! They have CHANGED the facts!!!! In fact they have been changing history books for decades !!! Did you know that they are in the process of changing the history books right now!! History books that all future generations will use!! LOOK IT UP FOR YOURSELF IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE ME. They are in the process of changing the books to say that THERE WAS NO SLAVE TRADE AT ALL !!! And are removing any mention of civil humanitarian leaders to ensure that future generations dont get the idea that they have rights and can stand up and fight for what they believe in! No really, look up the changes that they are making and see for yourself ! A simple Google search is all it takes!!

    I have brought an end the controversy about Eli Whitney.

    You people are all so BRAINWASHED is pathetic !! You sit in front of your stupid TVs thinking that what you are seeing
    is reality!! The reality is, is that EVERYTHING including, news, movies, books etc is altered to keep you ignorant.
    In fact, half of everything you think you know about this world is bogus lies meant to keep you a stupid ignorant sheep!!
    THEY control all media!!! All the news networks report false stories and alter the truth to shape what you know.
    THEY control your mind through a constant bombardment of false information!!!!!! Wake up you fools!!!!

  33. GANGSTA NIGGA says:

    Everything in the above statement is factual. Most americans are totally ignorant of reality and are brainwashed puppets.

  34. alicia says:

    i never thought he was black you can tell by his name hes white and yea he invented the cotton gin he didnt have to be one of the whites that are all for haveing slaves!!! my progects on eli whitney and i have like nothing to say but he is an white inventer lmao its kind of sad

  35. Doug says:

    “The grand irony of all this is that the person who provided Whitney with the key idea for his gin was himself a slave, known to us only by the name Sam. Sam’s father had solved the critical problem of removing seeds from cotton by developing a kind of comb to do the job. Whitney’s cotton gin simply mechanized this comb.”

    It seems the PART of the idea was figured out by a slave named Sam and Eli “simply mechanized” the idea. Hence the patented gin was invented by Eli “Whitie” Whitney.

    Of course, there are 2 thoughts to who thought of using the comb; a white woman and a black man.

    “The modern version of the cotton gin was created by the American inventor Eli Whitney in 1793 to mechanize the cleaning of cotton. The invention was granted a patent on March 14, 1794. There is slight controversy over whether the idea of the cotton gin and its constituent elements are correctly attributed to Eli Whitney. The popular version of Whitney inventing the cotton gin is attributed to an article on the subject in the early 1870s and later reprinted in 1910 in The Library of Southern Literature. In this article the author claims that Catherine Littlefield Greene suggested to Whitney the use of a brush-like component instrumental in separating out the seeds and cotton. To date there has been no independent verification of Greene’s role in the invention of the gin.”

    I believe Sam thought of the comb because his hair is more like cotton than a white womans hair.


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