Before the pandemic started, 1904labs was getting ready to move into a newly renovated space at the CIC@CET, one of the buildings that makes up the Cortex Innovation Center in St. Louis. In with this new space, we also added three new conference rooms. Although we haven’t been able to use them much since March, we wanted the names of these rooms to be something meaningful.
The 1904 in 1904labs is named for the year of the St. Louis World’s Fair. The fair brought millions of people to St. Louis to explore the latest innovations in science, technology, architecture, and more. St. Louis is our home, and we want to celebrate the best our city has to offer. That’s why, with our focus on spotlighting St. Louis innovators, we decided to name these new rooms after St. Louis leaders from underrepresented groups. This also aligns with our diversity and inclusion efforts.
1904labs is a very employee-driven environment, and this exercise was no exception. We started by having people nominate people of color from or who lived in St. Louis. The nominations had to include: why they were nominating that individual and why they were significant to St. Louis.
We wanted this process to be employee driven like so much of our culture but also educational. After collecting nominations, we held a lunch and learn so that those who submitted could present their nominees to the company.
Martha Valenta, one of our HCD leads, nominated Maya Angelou. Of her nominee, Martha said:
“I believe that I first learned about Maya Angelou by way of a quote. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
And, as I learned more about her -- her story -- I began to feel empowered. Here’s someone who was born into a low-socioeconomic household with complicated family issues at a time when women and people of color had few rights. The odds were completely stacked against her. Yet she became a famous poet -- Poet Laureate of the most powerful nation in the world! She’s an inspiration.”
We went through several rounds of voting to land on our three winners.
Miles Davis, esteemed jazz trumpeter, was born in Alton, IL (30 minutes from St. Louis) in 1929 and grew up in East St. Louis. Davis is credited for making key contributions to the evolution of jazz—leading the way in the invention of new forms like bebop, cool jazz, jazz fusion, and much more. During his lifetime, he won eight Grammy Awards and received thirty-two nominations. His 1959 album, Kind of Blue, is - to this day - the best-selling jazz album of all time.
Davis also helped launch the careers of several other prominent musicians who got their start in his band including John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, John Scofield, and many more.
Born right here in St. Louis in 1928, Maya Angelou had a broad career, spanning five decades, as a singer, dancer, actress, composer, educator, producer, and Hollywood’s first female black director. Angelou, though, is most famous as a writer, editor, essayist, playwright, and poet. Angelou’s best-selling book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is the first book written by a black woman to garner widespread readership.
Angelou was also a civil rights activist and served as a northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1959 for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and later worked with Malcom X. In 2010, she was bestowed with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, the highest civilian honor in the US.
George Washington Carver
An agricultural scientist and inventor, George Washington Carver was the most prominent black scientist of the early 20th century. Born into slavery in Missouri in the 1860s, George was freed by his master when slavery was abolished and raised as his child. The local school did not allow black students, so Carver walked 10 miles and slept in a barn to gain an education.
Later, Carver was the first-ever black student to attend Iowa State (for both his undergraduate and masters degrees) and later, was the first-ever black faculty member at Iowa State. Carver is best known for his work promoting crop alternatives to cotton, such as peanuts, and promoting environmentalism, such as preventing soil depletion. His work was world renowned, and Carver one of only a handful of Americans to become a member of the Royal Society of Arts in England.
In the end, we all learned a lot - both about prominent St. Louis figures we’d heard of and some we hadn’t. It was a great reminder of how much talent and impact has come out of our hometown.