February 1, 2004
We are a black gold mine, and the key that unlocks the door to these vast riches is the knowledge of who we are–I mean, who we really are.
What Mama Taught Me::Seven Core Values of Life
Every year, when Black History Month swings around, eyes roll all across America. And they’re not blue eyes, necessarily. Some are our eyes.
We bemoan that we’ve been assigned the shortest month of the year. We carp about how, for four weeks, America acknowledges our contributions while spending the rest of the year trying to keep us down.
But if Black History, our history, has shown us anything, it is that we can’t be held down–not chained, tied, or pinned. As Maya Angelou said, we rise again and again and again. In truth, the primary thing keeping us down is our lack of knowledge about ourselves.
So let’s fix that–starting now. Celebrate this month in the most meaningful way possible, by committing to learning something new about our history.
For instance, did you know that Elijah McCoy patented a mechanical lubricator for steam engines in 1872, vastly improving train safety and reducing the wear and tear of friction on all types of industrial machinery? Railroad workers were so impressed with his invention that they dubbed it “The Real McCoy,” the standard to which all competitors were held.
Lewis Latimer, the son of runaway slaves, became an electrical engineer and invented an inexpensive process for making light bulb filaments. He joined Thomas Edison’s company, Edison Electric Light Co. in 1884, and became an integral part of its research team, Edison’s Pioneers.
A.G. Gaston, the 1992 BLACK ENTERPRISE entrepreneur of the century, started the Booker T. Washington Insurance Co. in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1932. The company had been operating under the name Booker T. Washington Burial Society since 1923. Gaston eventually owned or controlled nine corporations, including construction, funeral, real estate, and investment companies. To learn more about his pursuits, read Black Titan: The Making of a Black American Millionaire (this issue).
Garrett Morgan invented the first gas mask in 1912, as well as the basis for the modern traffic signal in 1923. Marjorie Stewart Joyner became the first black woman to receive a patent–for her permanent hair wave machine–in 1926.
So celebrate this month, inspired by the inventions of our people. Let these stories motivate you to higher ground.
Black History Guides
African American Inventors by Otha Richard Sullivan (John Wiley & Sons; $24.95)
African Americans: Their Impact on U.S. History by Doris Hunter Metcalf (Good Apple; $19.99)
Smithsonian Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture. www.anacostia.si.edu
The Encyclopedia Britannica Guide to Black History. Log on for a comprehensive look at black history. www.search.eb.com/blackhistory