Let’s Not Forget That February Is Black History Month!

By Stephen N. Knights, Jr.           

February 1 was the signal that a new month began.  That meant that it was time to pay rent, balance my budget, turn the page of my calendar, and organize my schedule for the new month’s activities.  But there was one thing that I almost forgot.  February is Black history month; so I decided to reflect on some of the contributions that African Americans made to society.(available at  www.marcusgarvey.com on February 24, 2005).
Almost everyone is familiar with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Marcus Garvey or Malcolm X; but there are many less-famous African American individuals who have contributed to the advancement of civilization.  And these individuals are worth mentioning.  Before I started my day, I went to the kitchen for breakfast.  As I looked into the refrigerator, I had to give credit to Mr. Fred McKinley Jones because he was a Black inventor who invented an automatic refrigeration system for long-haul trucks in 1935.  This was a roof-mounted device placed on top of trucks to keep produce fresh in the midst of transportation. The ‘Automatic Refrigeration System,’ was issued a patent on July 20, 1940.        
After I got two eggs to make my ‘breakfast of champions,’ I reached for my Egg Beater. Here, I had to give credit to Mr. Willis Johnson. On February 5, 1884, Mr. Johnson patented an improved mechanical eggbeater, making it possible for us to enjoy making those omelets.  Breakfast was great, but it was time for me to clean up.  Mr. Thomas Stewart from Kalamazoo, Michigan patented a new kind of mop on June 11, 1893. Stewart invented the clamping mop that could wring water out of itself by the use of a level.  This is a smart invention that most of us can appreciate, since we dislike touching a wet mop.     
A similar device that I also appreciate is the Dust Pan.  But not just any dust pan.  Mr. Lloyd P. Ray patented a new and useful improvement in dustpans.  He invented a device with a metal collection plate attached to a short wooden handle to sweep trash into without getting your hands dirty.  If you can clean up without getting yourself dirty, it has to be a good thing.  Next, I took a shower.  And as every non-resident of Michigan has figured out, we are not in Cancun, Mexico. So after an a.m. shower, I was especially thankful to Ms. Alice Parker. Ms. Parker was from Morristown, NJ and she invented a new and improved gas-heating furnace that provided central heating.
While basking in the heat of my apartment, it was time for me to get dressed.  I reviewed my closet and decided to put on a sharp outfit that I recently picked up from the dry cleaners.  Here, I had to give credit to Mr. Thomas Jennings.  On March 3, 1821, Mr. Jennings was the first African American to receive a patent.  His patent was for a dry cleaning process called ‘dry scouring.’  Next, I picked out a pair of shoes.  At this point, I had to give credit to Mr. John Matzliger.  Mr. Matzliger was born in Paramaribo, Dutch Guiana.  He helped to revolutionize the shoe industry by developing a shoe machine that would attach the sole to the shoe in one minute. Because of this, he made the mass production of affordable shoes possible. Even though I do not have alot of hair, I—as well as many ladies—appreciate the invention of Ms. Lyda Newman. On November 15, 1898, Ms. Newman received a patent for her invention of a new and improved hairbrush.
My television was on and tuned into CNN to find out about any and all relevant, current issues.  Not surprisingly, one of the reporters gave an update on the war in Iraq.  In relation to war, credit should be given to Mr. Garrett Augustus Morgan for his invention of the gas mask.  In 1914, Morgan received a patent for a Safety Hood and Smoke Protector, also known as the gas mask.  This invention became highly requested by fire departments around the country and was later used by the U.S. Army during World War I. Garret was an inventor and businessman from Cleveland, Ohio.  He later invented an illuminated traffic light signal that greatly improved safety on America’s roads.   
Further, credit should be given to Ms. Bessie Blount.  In 1951, Ms. Blount invented a device that allowed amputees to feed themselves.  She was a physical therapist who worked with soldiers during WWII. With the ‘war on terrorism,’ in full swing, this invention could quite possibly and unfortunately play a crucial role.  The news paused for a break and I saw a commercial that featured Tiger Woods.  Contrary to popular belief, Tiger Woods did not invent golf—though he has mastered it.  But on December 12, 1899, Mr. George Grant received a patent for an improvement on the golf tee, which raised the ball off the ground.  This was the world’s first patent for a golf tee.  Also, Mr. Grant was one of the first two African Americans to graduate from Harvard Dental School in 1870, and he later taught there.  What do you think his ‘par’ was like?  
Eventually, I looked at the clock and realized that it was time to leave.  At that point, I gave credit to Mr. Benjamin Bannaker. Mr. Bannaker invented the first Farmer’s Almanac in 1753.  Mr. Benjamin Bannaker also created the first American built striking clock.  As if that was not enough, he had more ‘time’ and built the first watch in America—a wooden pocket watch.  African Americans have contributed vastly to the enhancement of the world.  Medicine, Philosophy, Technology, Physics, Mathematics, and Law are only some of the areas that African Americans have contributed.  Whether it is inventions, great ideas, or activities, these contributions have an obvious and tremendous impact on our society.  It is up to each of us to learn more about these and other individuals in an attempt to emulate and forge great accomplishments of our own.  African American or otherwise, February should be a month dedicated to acknowledging and appreciating great individuals.

(TIME Magazine put Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I on its cover on the occasion of his coronation—November 3, 1930).  Available at http://www.time.com/time/europe/timetrails/selassie.

Source of facts: www.inventors.about.com/cs/blackinventors.com