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People Are Realizing They Were Incorrectly Taught Eli Whitney Was Black

Wait, WHAT.

Posted on February 1, 2017, at 4:43 p.m. ET

In case it's been a few years since you took a US history class, this is Eli Whitney, the inventor of the cotton gin.

Samuel Finley Breese Morse

His invention made cotton a highly valuable crop in the South, which led to a massive increase in slavery.

But, weirdly enough, a ton of people are suddenly realizing they were incorrectly taught that Eli Whitney was black.

yearly reminder that half the country was incorrectly taught that eli whitney was black

And now everyone's absolutely reeling.

@rembert ...Um...yeah, count me among those who were apparently taught incorrectly. Whoa.

@rembert wait what the hell... WHAT THE HELL.

I'm still reeling from learning that people are taught that Eli Whitney was black. That's some real messed up stuff…

Many vividly recalled learning he was black in school.

What the hell? I've always been taught he was black and I took and passed AP US History

Went to public school in Ohio. They taught he was black. That's seriously messed up.

I was definitely, absolutely taught that Eli Whitney was black in both Kansas and Florida elementary schools.

hold up: was i the only person who learned about eli whitney during black history month and therefore assumed he was black?

Mind. Blown. WTF Indianapolis Public Schools?!

Some even knew of posters they'd seen in school with that info.

Schaumburg High School's highest and lowest point. #FebruaryIsBlackHistoryMonth

I remember seeing a him on a poster with great Black inventors at my middle school😕😕😕

And some said they did reports on Whitney for Black History Month.

I had to do a presentation on him for BHM in 5th grade. I was so damn confused...


Perhaps most notably, Whitney shows up in the lyrics of "You Must Learn" by KRS-One, among a list of other African-American inventors and leaders.

A few people have said they thought Whitney was one of the first wealthy black Americans due to his invention.

@rembert Not only did we learn he was Af-Am, we learned he became one of the first wealthy Af-Ams *because* of it.

And some have theorized this collective misremembering may be due to an unproven claim that Whitney stole the idea for the cotton gin from one of his slaves.

While no documentation can prove this claim, many people believe it is possible because a slave wouldn't have been legally able to register patents.

As the African American Registry, an education nonprofit, explains:

African slaves, because they were not citizens, could not register any invention with the patent office. Their owners could not register a slave's invention either, since the law required that the patent be issued to the actual inventor. Consequently, any free person wanting to patent something could not acknowledge any contribution from a slave. Thus it was easy to steal a slave's ideas and patent them.

While Browne's tweet caused many to realize everything they knew was a lie, this isn't the first time people were left baffled over Whitney's whiteness.

There was a Reddit thread on the same topic in 2015.

Others think this is just another case of "the Mandela effect," the phenomenon of a large group of people misremembering the exact same thing.

No one was incorrectly taught, this is just another Mandela Effect.

I'm 100% convinced this is some Mandela Effect shit.

This is my berenstain bears moment except the explanation is pervasive white supremacy

my first reaction is WHAT OF COURSE HE WAS BLACK my second reaction is to read that article about Shazam again

Black History Month has been co-opted by the Mandela Effect.

  1. So, did you think Eli Whitney was black?

Oops. Something went wrong. Please try again later
Looks like we are having a problem on the server.
So, did you think Eli Whitney was black?
    vote votes
    Yes, and now I'm doubting everything I've ever known.
    vote votes
    Nah, I knew he was white.
    vote votes
    I have more complicated thoughts that I will share in the comments.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.