Trailblazing Black Scientist Lewis Latimer To Be Honored This Saturday

In a long-overdue decision, the city of Fall River will honor Lewis H. Latimer, the Black scientist who assisted Thomas Edison in inventing the lightbulb, The Herald News reported.

Latimer passed away in 1928 and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery. However, he has never had a headstone. That is, until now.

The change was made after two men launched a campaign to honor Latimer. Frank Bonafilia and Jon Cropper, alongside Carmichael Roberts, co-founded the Lewis Latimer Fellowship Program. The fellowship is an extension of the Edison Awards, which aim to foster innovation and positive scientific impact across the nation. Through this fellowship program, Black innovators are awarded opportunities and mentorship. Bonafilia and Cropper led the project to install a headstone.

“The invention of light, the invention of the phone — we’re still using these innovations today,” Bonafilia told The Herald News. “And Latimer was such a big part of that. What would’ve happened if there was a fellowship that removed all the barriers of entry for him back in the day? Where would he be today?” 

Latimer’s contributions to the scientific community are extensive and were no simple feat. Both of his parents were enslaved but fled through the Underground Railroad and, eventually, settled in Chelsea, MA. After a stint in the Navy, Latimer found himself working at a patent clerk’s office. There, he taught himself draftsmanship and his skills helped him rise through the ranks. Soon, he became head draftsman. 

In 1876, he caught the eye of Alexander Graham Bell, who hired the young man to help create blueprints for the telephone. Latimer also became a member of Edison’s private Pioneers Club of innovators. His work is highlighted on the Latimer Fellowship Program’s site. Latimer invented the very first “water closet” for railroad cars in 1874 and his work laid the foundation for the creation of the air conditioner in 1886. 

The Edison Awards will be hosting the commemorative event on Saturday, Sept. 23, at 1 p.m. Over 60 guests are expected to attend, many of whom are former participants of the Latimer Fellowship Program. Award-nominated actor Shameik Moore, best known for his voice-acting role as Miles Morales in the Spider-Verse films, is may make an appearance during the ceremony.

“The memorial itself is really exciting,” Cropper said. “We’re working with the artist who created the Martin Luther King memorial in Atlanta. … It’s a very beautiful stone with a bronze bust of his face, and a list of all his living descendants with a couple of elegant quotes. And I think that it is a memorial worthy of the man.” 

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