Black history

African American contributors had great moments, big and small

This week The Reporter begins publishing the 36th consecutive Black History Month series written by former Rockdale resident Susie Sansom Piper.

The 2013 observance is an extra-special one. It’s a double anniversary of two supremely important events.

On Jan. 1, 1863, 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the first legal renunciation of slavery by the U. S. government.

On Aug. 27, 1963, 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave what has gone down in history as the “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D. C.

History is made up of great moments like those. But it’s also made up thousands of smaller, but still important, moments and contributions. Like these, every one of which was by an African American:

• In 1821—yes, 1821—the U. S. Patent Office granted its first patent to an African-American. Thomas Jennings invented a new and better dry-cleaning process. He used the profits to fight slavery and rescue his family.

• Lewis Latimer helped perfect the electric light. His carbon filaments burned much longer than Edison’s.

• Alexander Miles made the elevator much safer by inventing sliding electric doors that cover up the open shaft when the elevator is on a different floor.

• Dr. Charles Drew opened the first large-scale blood bank, assuring more adequate supplies of blood.

• George Carruthers invented the far ultraviolet camera used in the later Apollo moon missions. He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

• Otis Boykin developed the control units used on guided missiles and a device which controls heart pacemakers.

• Mark Dean was one of the inventors of a microcomputer bus device which led to the development of USB connections and peripherals.

• James West held 47 U.S. and over 200 foreign patents, mostly in the field of electric transducers.

• This may be the most amazing. Though he could neither read nor write, and slavery would not end for three more decades, Henry Blair, in 1834 and 1836, invented automatic planters for corn and cotton seeds.

Salute, Mr Blair! It’s Black History Month.—M.B.

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2013-01-31 digital edition

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