Sketching Blueprints: Black Innovators in Skilled Trades

In honor of Black History Month, we wanted to celebrate some of the amazing innovators in skilled trades industries.

Written by Ashleen Brydum

Today, we feature Mary Eliza Mahoney, David Nelson Crosthwait Jr, Cheryl McKissack Daniel, and Eugenia Powell Deas, all innovators in their fields. Read on to learn how these individuals broke through barriers and overcame adversity to make major contributions to their industries:

Mary Eliza Mahoney – A Trailblazer in Allied Health

When Mary Eliza Mahoney became a Registered Nurse (RN) in 1879, she also became the first professionally trained Black nurse.

Born in Massachusetts, Mahoney pursued nursing training as a teenager and quickly gained work at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Roxbury. The hospital was the first in the US to offer a nursing program and after working there for 15 years, Mahoney was accepted to the program at age 33. Only four of 42 students completed the nursing program and Mahoney was one of them. She received her diploma in 1879 making her the first Black American professional nurse.

Mahoney rooted her career in the private health care sector due to ongoing racism in the country, but her clients praised her skill and professionalism. Dedicated to her life’s work, Mahoney helped to form the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) and assisted in doubling the number of Black nurses from 1910-1930.

Since her passing in 1926, Mahoney has been honored with numerous awards and medals. In 1976, she was inducted into the Nursing Hall of Fame and found her rightful place in the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993. Mary Eliza Mahoney, RN was one of the early innovators that helped pave the way for many of our colleagues today. We praise her revolutionary spirit and all the contributions she made to the allied health field.

David Nelson Crosthwait Jr. – Pioneer in HVAC Design

The outside of Radio City Music Hall from a street corner
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (

David Nelson Crosthwait Jr had a knack for inventing from a young age.

Born in Nashville, TN in 1898 to the principle of the city’s first Black high school, Crosthwait Jr spent most of his early years tinkering with various items. This passion for innovation led him to earn a full scholarship for a master’s degree in engineering at Purdue University.

After graduation, Crosthwait Jr continued creating new products to heat and ventilate buildings for the C.A. Dunham Company (now Dunham-Bush). Thanks to his cleverness, Crosthwait Jr quickly became the director of the research department.

David Nelson Crosthwait Jr’s most notable accomplishment was designing the steam system used to heat Radio City Music Hall. The heating unit was an essential component in keeping the music hall’s patrons comfortable while the Rockettes dazzled in the Christmas Spectacular every year!

In his lifetime, Crosthwait Jr obtained more than 120 international and US patents and significantly contributed to the craft of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC). We remember David Nelson Crosthwait Jr. not only for the barriers he pushed through. Crosthwait Jr is an inspiration to all innovators and engineers for the many advances he brought to the field of HVAC.

Cheryl McKissack Daniel – Leaving Her Mark in the Business World

Cheryl McKissack Daniel was born into a family that set the blueprint for her career. Her grandfather founded McKissack & McKissack Architects & Engineers, one the oldest minority-owned professional design construction firms in the US.

From a young age, Daniel would go to construction sites to learn the land and look over designs and business documents. She went on to earn a degree in Civil Engineering from Howard University. When her father fell ill, Daniel returned home to assist with the family business. She setup a construction management company called the McKissack Group, but eventually took over the original family business as well.

Daniel knowing her worth and standing her ground has led to numerous successes, both personal and professional. One of her most notable acquisitions was the contract of an $8 billion project for Terminal 1 at JFK Airport. Cheryl McKissack Daniel is a modern-day business woman, paving the way for many minority and women innovators. We are proud to celebrate Cheryl McKissack Daniel as a powerful leader and businesswomen laying the foundation for future business entrepreneurs.

Eugenia Powell Deas – A Welder Who Defied the Odds

A Black woman, Eugenia Powell Deas, hold a drill to a piece of metal
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (

Eugenia Powell Deas faced adversity soon after she was born, when at just seven months old her mother passed away. However, even through all the changes in her childhood, she remained happy and had a passion to work hard.

Deas pushed through racial and societal barriers to graduate high school. She secured a job as an electric welder at Charleston Navy Shipyard, focusing on honing her welding craft. She quickly became one of the best welders at the Shipyard, proving that quality work does not have a race or gender.

Eugenia Powell Deas was the only Black woman welder at the Charleston Navy Shipyard during World War II. In a 2018 Interview Deas recalled her time at the Shipyard, “…You know what they used to call me? One chocolate drop in the box, because I was the only Black women welder. The other women there would do the cleaning and the cooking, but I wanted to do something besides clean and cook, so I was a welder.”

In addition to a talented welder, Deas also was a devoted mother raising nine children and sending them all to the college of their choice. Eugenia Powell Deas defied incredible odds to work hard and do what she loved. She is one of the early innovators for women in the welding field, and we are proud to celebrate her and her accomplishments.

About Centura College

Centura College has been part of an organization dedicated to helping men and women develop careers since 1969. By training working adults in healthcare, technology, business, and trades, they connect communities with some of the fastest growing career fields in today’s marketplace. The school offers professional facilities, knowledgeable instructors, day or evening classes, job placement assistance and is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC). To learn more, visit or like them on Facebook at

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