Unearthing Silicon Valley’s Olmecs

Four thousand years ago, what scholars consider America’s first civilization created monuments which still boggle the imagination.
At San Francisco’s DeYoung Museum, the Olmec sculptures are featured in an exhibition of grand scale.
As thrilling as the massive 12 to 16 ton sculptures is the question of how the Olmec people actually moved the pieces around. It is the same question often asked regarding the similarly scale pyramids of Egypt.
One who has viewed both the King Tut and Olmec exhibitions at the DeYoung is struck by another similarity–the conscious multilation of the noses in an attempt to obscure obvious African ancestry.
Still today, the Olmec sculptures are the largest works of art created in the Americas, but they disappeared until the mid-19th century.
Similarly, some of the monumental discoveries of modern technology were created by African-American scientific giants.
Our documentary Freedom Riders of the Cutting Edge began to bring some of the most important black technical icons to light in 2009.
On June 18, we’re returning to the Tech Museum of Innovation to premiere a new documentary A Great Day in Gaming, about Gerald A. Lawson, the figure who invented the first cartridge video game console in the early 1970s and then was covered up like an Olmec monument until the creation of Freedom Riders.
We’ll also feature two panels, a group of some of the earliest engineering standouts. You’ll learn about the first black technology company in the Bay Area, Reynolds Electronics, which had more than 60 employees in the 1960s; EPA (East Palo Alto) Electronics, Colossal Graphics, Silicon Graphics and many of the every-day discoveries which African-American inventors created.
Seeing how the Olmec heads were buried helps explain a phenomenon we’ve seen repeatedly in our research on the history of African-Americans in California.
The title of our book The Black Queen: How African-Americans Put California on the Map spells out how blacks have been integrally intertwined with the past 500 years of every aspect of the state’s history, although most often obscured.
There will be another panel of current game developers to prevent their falling into the obscurity that Lawson faced.
As the Olmec heads show, even the biggest accomplishments can be covered up.

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