Black History Fun Fact Friday –Black Inventors / Inventions

There’s a funny story behind this post. My stomach was growling and I thought “Hmmm, what if there was a device where you could hook up to your body parts and see what’s going on in there??” Like, say your stomach hurts or you’re hungry or your leg is in pain, you could hook up to some technology screen type deal and see what is causing those changes. OK, you may already know but I mean in a way where you could see it .(medical genuis smarty pants lol) You can go to the doctor and already know what needs to be done. Anywho, that’s when I thought it would be fun to look at some inventors / inventions that we may not have known about.

The Pencil Sharpener

 

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The Love Sharpener

Also, known as The Love Sharpener, The Pencil Sharpener was patented by a black man named John Lee Love. John did not invent the pencil sharpener* but what he did invent would carry on to the same pencil sharpeners we use today. A carpenter in Fall River, Massachusetts, John invented several devices and in 1897, he patented a portable pencil sharpener known as the “Love Sharpener.” (*The first ever pencil sharpener was patented in France by mathematician Bernard Lassimone in 1828. A decade later another Frenchman, Therry des Estwaux, designed  a conical-shaped device that, when a pencil was inserted and twisted, all sides of the pencil were whittled away at once and make the sharpening process much quicker.).

Heating Furnace — Ventilation System

Alice H. Parker, an African-American woman from Morristown, NJ developed, in 1919, an early concept of the modern home heating system. Her system gave birth to the thermostat and the forced air furnaces in most homes today, replacing what was then the most common method for heating – cutting and burning wood in fireplaces or stoves. Parker’s invention would be better known today as Central Heating.

The Mailbox

What would you know, a black man invented the mailbox. Known as The Street Letter box back then, Philip Downing designed a metal box with four legs which he patented on October 27, 1891. He called his device a street letter box and it is the predecessor of today’s mailbox. (A fellow blogger wrote a post about Downing awhile back. Check it out here!)

The Sanitary Belt, The Walker, The Toilet Tissue Holder

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Sanitary Belts

Before pads and tampons menstrual huts were common where women would be separated from communities while on their cycle (known biblically as a time of uncleanliness). Later women began using cloth or rags which is where the term “she’s on the rag” came from. Common forms of protection rabbit skins, rags, menstrual aprons (aprons??) homemade knitted pads and eventually, the sanitary belt. I heard of the sanitary belt from my mom, otherwise I would not have a clue what this is. Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner, a black woman, had some pretty cool inventions, the Sanitary Belt being one of them. She also invented the walker and toilet tissue holder. Pretty neat. (Ladies, you can learn more about the evolution of the pad HERE.)

Toilet

Thomas Elkins, a black man, invented a lot of things (to include an improved refrigerator). Known then as a Chamber Commode, the modern toilet was patented by Thomas Elkins on January 9, 1872. Elkins’ commode was a combination bureau, mirror, book-rack, washstand, table, easy chair, and chamber stool.  (The flush toilet goes back to the 1500s but the idea failed to catch on until later).

The First “Perm”

A woman getting a permanent (perm)

Did you know that Perm is short for Permanent? The first concept of the perm was invented by a black woman named Marjorie Joyner. The granddaughter of slave owner and slave, Marjorie developed an invention called “The Permanent Waving Machine” which permed or straightened hair by wrapping it in rods. Later, a black man named Garret Morgan (inventor of the Traffic Signal and Gas Mask) invented our modern version of the perm by accident. In his tailor shop, Garrett was thinking of a solution he could use to polish the needles to a high gloss and stop them from scorching clothes. When Morgan doctored this liquid, he decided to test the effects of the liquid on dog’s hair and saw how the texture had smooth out. Later trying this on human hair, the relaxer was born. Delighted with his success, Morgan coined his hair division the G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Company. This Company was also responsible for the black hair oil dye and the curved tooth iron comb (to be used as a hot comb.)

Blood Bank

Charles R. Drew was an African-American surgeon who pioneered methods of storing blood plasma for transfusion and organized the first large-scale blood bank in the U.S. Ironically, he died due to an accident that blocked blood flow to his heart (there’s a myth that he died at an all-white hospital among whites who refused to operate on him but this story cannot be verified. According to my research, Drew was treated at Alamance General Hospital, a facilities-poor “White” hospital. The White doctors at Alamance began work immediately but Drew’s injuries were so severe and his loss of blood so great that he could not be saved. It is possible that due his prominence he was treated better than most blacks were during the time but further research / insight is needed.)

Feeding Tube

Bessie Blount was a physical therapist who served during WWII. She invented an electrically driven feeding tube device that enabled wounded soldiers to consume a mouthful of food when biting down on a tube. At the time, it was hard to get a patent and she donated this invention to France. In 1951, she received a patent for a modified version from the U.S. called the portable receptacle holder, smaller tube that could be worn around the neck. However, many of Blount’s inventions are not very well known since she signed over her inventions to France.

Black History Fun Fact Friday – William Still

Welcome back to Black History Fun Fact Friday. Today, as promised, we are looking at the life of William Still.

Since it’s been a busy week, I did not actually get to write an article. I usually stay up late to draft these but I couldn’t do three articles last night. So, I am posting a brief biography of Still’s life from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center which you can find at the source below.

Source: http://freedomcenter.org/content/william-still

“William Still was born in Burlington County, New Jersey. His father, Levin Steel, had been enslaved, purchased his own freedom, and changed his name to Still to protect his wife, Sidney. Mrs. Still had tried to escape once before she succeeded, but could only bring two of her children with her. William Still had little formal education but studied whenever he could. In 1844, William moved to Philadelphia.

In 1847, he found a job as a clerk and janitor for the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery. He soon began aiding fugitive slaves, often sheltering them until they could find their way farther north. One fugitive was his older brother, Peter, who had been left behind when his mother escaped forty years earlier. These experiences led William to save careful records about the people he helped. Meanwhile, Still purchased real estate, opened a store selling stoves, and later founded a successful coal business.

Before the Civil War Still had destroyed many of his records about aiding fugitives, because he feared they would be used to prosecute people. After the war, his children persuaded him to write the story of his exploits and the people he helped. Still’s book, The Underground Railroad (1872), is one of the most important historical records we have. Although Still recognized the many contributions of white abolitionists, he portrayed the fugitives as courageous individuals who struggled for their own freedom. Still proudly exhibited his book at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876.”

Source: http://freedomcenter.org/content/william-still

HBO Releases Full Trailer for ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’

I read the book a couple years ago and wrote a Black History Fun Fact about it (that you can find under the Black History Fun Fact page on the sidebar) I heard then Oprah was making a movie about it. Looks like its about to come out. Thanks Nikki for sharing.

Nikki Skies

HBO wants you to add another must-see film to your list:The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.The film, which is produced by and stars media…

Source: HBO Releases Full Trailer for ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’

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Black History Fun Fact Friday – UNDERGROUND TV Show

Since the TV show I want to feature today as part of our “Movie” Night Friday was Underground anyway, I decided to combine it with Black History Fun Fact Friday since it is on the same lines.

Today, we are discussing Underground, one of the most powerful TV shows on right now. (One of the deepest movies is GET OUT. You must check into it if you have not gone to see it).

First, let’s catch you up:

Wikipedia: About Underground

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Photo Credit: WGN America – Underground

“Driven by the dreams of a courageous blacksmith named Noah, some plantation slaves in 1850s Georgia band together to attempt a daring escape. The fight for their lives, their futures and their freedom leads to Noah’s risk-filled plan to travel hundreds of miles away via the Underground Railroad. The landmark 10-episode anthology is created by Misha Green (“Sons of Anarchy”) and Joe Pokaski (“Daredevil”) and co-executive produced by John Legend, who also oversees the series’ score, soundtrack and musical elements.”

Trailer of Season One:

We are now in Season Two and it is already off to a blood racing start. One of the reasons I love this show is because it is well-written, something that does not happen often on television. What I mean by well-written is that the history is accurate. While there are plenty of sad parts (as slavery was not pretty) it is well balanced with factual information. The creators (and actors) of this show didn’t just throw something together. They did their research.

Who Ran the Railroad – The Underground Railroad is often portrayed as being ran mostly by white abolitionists with lots of people. While white abolitionists and Quakers surely helped, a lot of the people running the show were free blacks from the North too and I love how the program shows this (though subtly) by having Rosalee and the others front and center of the operation and not in the background just being “carried” by the helping whites. “…very few people, relatively speaking, engaged in its activities. After all, it was illegal to assist slaves escaping to their freedom. Violating the 1850 Act could lead to charges of “constructive treason.” Being an abolitionist or a conductor on the Underground Railroad, the historian Donald Yacovone related in an email to me, “was about as popular and as dangerous as being a member of the Communist Party in 1955.”

– Henry Louis Gates Jr.

The most noted black man who helped to run The Underground Railroad is William Still who operated with the assistance of white abolitionists. William Still, a free-born Black, became an abolitionist movement leader and writer and was also one of the most successful Black businessmen in the history of the City of Philadelphia. Next week, I’ll do a Black History Fun Fact on him with more details.

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Humanizing Harriet Tubman – Another thing I see is that the writers and directors of Underground humanizes Harriet Tubman. As much as we complain about too many “slave stories” we really don’t know as much about slavery as we think we do, first because we weren’t there and second because we don’t study history. All we really know about Harriet are the quotes we read but in this show she is brought to life and has feelings. She is brave but also fearful. She is fierce but also concerned. She’s a warrior but still a woman; a gentle mother-like figure to Rosalee (The Black Rose) as she takes her under her wing. One of the ways to which Harriet is humanized in addition to these emotions is the calling of her by her nickname: Moses.

Female Moses – Also, called “General Tubman” people began to call Harriet Tubman Moses because of her leading her people out of slavery like Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt. The powerful thing about this to me is that we are the same people. There is countless evidence of the physical appearance of the ancient Israelites but not just the physical appearance but also the culture of the people. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 c.e. by the Roman Emperor Titus and his general Vespasian, we fled into East Africa (Ethiopia, Egypt, the Sudan, etc.) and from there migrated to other parts of the African continent, widely settling on the West Coast to the extent that some tribal African nations still observe Hebrew customs and traditions. Tribes such as the Yoruba, Congo, and Ashanti can still be found keeping laws that can also be found in the Old Testament.

Upon The Transatlantic Slave Trade and our enslavement in the U.S. and pretty much everywhere else (we did not just come into America but were spread across the four corners) we sang many songs (spirituals) that told the history of who we were as a people before slavery. These songs, like “Go down Moses” and “Wade in the Water” (for which a lyric is, “Who’s that dressed in white, must be the Israelites”) was not just the symbolism of a spiritual people but the history of a people who lived the lyrics. Thus, Harriet’s nickname is powerful not just because her leadership in freeing her people from America is symbolic of Moses freeing us from Egypt, but also because she is his ancestor. In the words of Malcolm X, “You are the people of the book. You are the lost sheep.”

Harriet Tubman’s Spells – Speaking of Moses, I was excited to see that they put this in the show because it is a fact we don’t hear often. Harriet Tubman suffered from severe headaches, and seizures. She also had a form of narcolepsy where she would fall asleep without notice. Her condition caused her to have visions believed to have helped her in her missions. They showed this in Wednesday’s episode when she fell asleep at the table.

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Aldis Hodge as “Noah”

Full Beards – I love the full beards and the masculine image of the black man. It was a subtle thing but present. I imagine Moses, David, or Gideon wore beards like that. Nonetheless, this is how men grew their beards back then, very thick and covering the whole lower face. Sometimes you couldn’t even see their mouths.

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Photo Credit: WGN America: Underground

Slave Examinations / NFL Combine Evaluations – Speaking of black men, they showed you how enslaved blacks were inspected when they were looking at Noah’s teeth and body when he was in jail. (Speaking of jail, such physical examinations also happen there.) Enslaved blacks were naked and examined before they were bought to show potential buyers that they were of good stock and to determine how useful that person would be based on age, size and health. With the NFL combine, evaluators try to project the player’s longevity. Players strip down to bare minimums to have their bodies pricked and prodded for size and strength in an eerily similar way as their ancestors were pricked and prodded by slave buyers. The more they can get out of a player, the better. Enslaved Blacks worth was similarly judged by what the plantation owners believed they could get out of the enslaved long term.

Moss on the Tree – Another subtly, it is a testament to the story’s attention to historic detail. As Noah is trying to escape his captors, he notices the moss on the tree. This told him which direction he was going because there’s a tendency for moss to grow on the north side of the tree in the Northern Hemisphere.

Sweet-grass Baskets – The baskets the women carried on their heads are sweet-grass baskets, one of the oldest handcrafts of African origin used to separate the rice seed from its chaff. Speaking of women, we didn’t even talk about how fearless they were. I loved the part when Elizabeth thought they were going to pull out sewing items but they pulled out guns but I will stop here.

I hope I’ve sparked enough curiosity for you to go ahead and watch the show! Or at the very least get some young people you know to watch it as a History lesson. It airs every Wednesday @ 9:00a CST on WGN. (No one paid me to say this. Maybe I should ask for a check).

Underground Season Two Trailer

Literacy’s Role in African American Education

Guest Blog Post. I’m on Rachel’s Blog today. Come on over!

Rachel Poli

Guests appear on my blog three times a month. If you would like to know more about this, please visit my Guest Bloggers Wanted page.

Today’s post is brought to you by Yecheilyah. Thanks, Yecheilyah!

I’ve always enjoyed reading. If I could, I can spend an entire day reading, 24 hours easy. In school, I’ve also been far better at English and Literature than I was at math or science. In fact, the better I did in Literature, it seemed the worse I was in math. It got so bad that when I was in High School and my teacher assigned a poetry project, I wrote a poem about how much I hated math. I still hate math.

I am not the only one. Many African American young adults struggled through math and science while excelling in English. Why is that? I thought to explore the answer to this…

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Black History Fun Fact Friday – Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller

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Welcome back to Black History Fun Fact Friday.

Today I introduce to you Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, the first black woman to receive a federal commission for her art. Fuller’s artwork became the precursor to the resurgence of African themes in art seen during the Harlem Renaissance Movement. Not only a time of Jazz, Literature, and Flapper women, this explosion of black artistic culture also included artwork which is not discussed as much as let’s say the literature and the music.

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Born in Philadelphia in 1877, Fuller was the youngest of three children born to William and Emma Warrick. Prominent hair stylists who owned a flourishing Philadelphia store, Fuller’s father was a prosperous barber and the owner of several shops. Her mother was a hairdresser with wealthy white clients who were served in the family’s shop. The family also took vacations to the same places as did their upper-class white Philadelphian clients and lived in a three-story house. Why is it then that Fuller’s name is different from her parents?

Meta was named after one of these clients, Meta Vaux, the daughter of a Senator Richard Vaux. It makes me think about many blacks during the time and whether or not we felt we needed to assimilate into white society in order to fit into the culture of America. For instance, both W.E.B. Dubois and Meta (who was close with Dubois) felt that blacks were capable of the highest achievements but also that this meant to be educated as whites were educated. In addition, despite eventually producing “African” themed art, Meta rejected DuBois initial suggestion that she concentrate on African-American themes when they first met in Europe.

While Meta was successful and is highlighted here as an unfamiliar face, a precursor if you will to The Harlem Renaissance, the movement itself was not all rainbows and whistles. While the artistic explosion is something I love (being a poet and all) I hate that some blacks (as talented as we are) felt at the time that they needed to fit in with White America in order to make it, a truth not everyone is willing to acknowledge but this is Black History Fun Fact Friday so we must keep it real. As Carl Van Vechten titled his book, for many blacks Harlem was, at the time, “Nigger Heaven”.

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Fuller’s Work: Ethiopia Awakened

Nonetheless, in October of 1889, Fuller arrived in Paris where for the next three years she would study with prominent French sculptors which would have a major impact on her work. While in Europe this is where she would encounter Dubois for the second time and it was the beginning of a friendship that continued for many years. Dubois and Thomas Calloway was organizing a Negro exhibit for the Paris Exposition and visited Meta’s studio to her surprise.

When Meta returned to the States, she established a studio in Philadelphia where art organizations flourished and in the early 1900s through the twenties she continued to do well. In 1928, she was selected to show her work at The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

In 1909 she did a 15-piece work for The Jamestown Tercentennial Ex­position illustrating black’s progress in America since the Jamestown settlement. Fuller also received a gold medal for “The Jamestown Tab­leau,” and this  established her reputation as an artist and began a long and committed career. Despite my personal feelings, it is refreshing to study the faces of some of the unknown artists of this most important time in history.

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Black Land Ownership

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Welcome back to Black History Fun Fact Friday where Black History Month is never over! BHFFF is coming to you every Friday where I strive to introduce to you lesser known faces and lesser known facts. Today, we are talking Black Land Ownership, the most underrated , least discussed black business yet.


Land ownership has always been important to African Americans, although we own less than 1% of rural land in the United States today, it has not always been this way.

At one point, Black Land Ownership was at its peak (the 1910s – 20s) and helped to start such communities as The Mound Bayou in Mississippi, Rosewood in Florida, Blackdom in Albuquerque New Mexico, and, Black Wall Street in Oklahoma and many, many more. (See 7 Black Communities that Prospered) “In the 50 years following the Emancipation Proclamation, African Americans held over 15 million acres of land. Today, African Americans own less than 7 million acres of land. In 1920, African Americans owned 14% of all farms. Today, African Americans own less than 1% of all farms.” (Vivian M. Lucas, Barren: The Decline of African American Land Ownership from 15 million to 7million acres).

In Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, the book that opened me up to the world of Black Literature as a child, Mildred D. Taylor starts a slew of books centered around the Logan family and their fight to keep their land. Land, always that place families could come back to, where gatherings could be held and where communities could root themselves. In Forty-Acres, Phyllis R. Dixon centers her story around black landownership. Rising from a sharecropper’s son to the largest Black Landowner in Dwight Count, Arkansas, C.W. Washington’s stroke forces him to retire from farming and he must decide what happens to the land. And finally, In Queen Sugar, by Natalie Baszile, now a TV show executive produced by Oprah, it again brings to light the subject of black landownership when Charley Bordelon inherits her father’s eight hundred acres of sugarcane land.

Unlike today, where paper money is valued above anything else, land ownership had always been praised as a vital contributor to financial and economic stability for the African American community. Landowners could build houses on the land, raise animals on land and grow food. We sold food we grew, bartered among neighbors, had bountiful dinners and when The Great Depression hit, many southern black land-owners didn’t notice until years in. Land ownership was something cherished, something we could call our own, and something to which we could be proud of.

What happened to families like the ones we read about and have grown to love? Where did Big Mama go and the land with her? What happen to Black Land Ownership and why was it so important to the people who came before us?

“Comparing the U.S. Agriculture Census data on African-American farmland ownership for 1910 and 1997, it shows a drastic decline from its peak of 15 million acres in 1910 to 2.4 million acres in 1997.  A recent study estimated that in the early 20th century, rural landownership among African-American farmers and non-farmers was between 16 and 19 million acres (Gilbert, J., 2002).  The 1999 Agricultural Economics and Land Ownership Survey (AELOS), which assessed private rural landownership across race and use (i.e. farming, forestry, etc.), found that there are currently 68,000 African-American rural landowners and they own a total of approximately 7.7 million acres of land, less than 1% of all privately owned rural land in the United States.  (AELOS, 1999).  Sixty percent (60%) of which is owned by non-farmers.  (AELOS, 1999).  However, this acreage is valued at $14 billion.  (AELOS, 1999).”

-Miessha Thomas, Jerry Pennick & Heather Gray, Federation/LAF staff, 2004

There are many factors that play into why land has lost its prominence among blacks today:

  • Discrimination of Black Farmers
  • Little political and technical understanding of the business of farming on behalf of the farmers themselves
  • Poor land management
  • Movement of blacks from the South to the North, in which case many sold their land
  • Heir Property passed down to heirs who don’t really care about the land
  • Underappreciated of the business of farming by young people who equate it to slave labor
  • Landowners dying off without leaving Wills

When my husband and I lived on our cousins’ 40 acres, we loved it. The land I mean. The house wasn’t much to speak of, but oh the land! We lived there for five years of our lives and as a couple who is interested in acquiring land of our own we learned a lot.

Not only did many families leave their wealth (land) for better financial opportunities in the North (which many of them did not find), many blacks also did not leave Wills to their children and grandchildren. Known legally as Estate Planning, this is the process of arranging for the distribution and management of your estate after you die which, sadly, many black families fail to do. The generation just a few steps out of slavery more than likely cared very much about the land but if the children who will keep the land going do not care, then the land is lost. In most families, when the older generation dies off (and did not leave Wills to indicate who the land passed down to), the land then falls into the hands of the State who then controls who owns the land and how much of land they own. In the case, there was estate planning, the land may also become heir property.

Heir property is when the land is passed down to heirs according to the state or blood relative successors who are in place to inherit the land. The problem with this in the Black Community is that the land was typically passed down to family members who are not as interested in the land, who does not live in the state where the land is, who is only interested in the oil rights of the land (royalties given to landowners who have had their land drilled on for oil by the oil companies, which, taints the purity of the soil so many of these lands are no longer good for growing food), and who could care less about the land’s upkeep. Heirs also comprised of relatives who may not have known each other and will probably never know that the land exists.

Gary Grant, National President of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalist Association, a nonprofit organization created to respond to the issues and concerns of African American farmers in the U.S. and abroad, addresses the continued loss of African American farms:

“We are losing land and wealth that our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents worked, fought, and died to acquire for us,” he says. “We owe our ancestral warriors a debt– We must help ourselves by ensuring that the next generation is ready to control the land.”

During our time on the land, from which we acquired dogs, chickens, a horse, and started two gardens, my husband and I had long petitioned our elderly cousins on what it will take for us to buy some of the lands. After all, this was family. However, the land is heir property that must first be passed down to certain individuals. Individuals  who do not live near the land, rarely check up on the land, and who do not have a connection to the land in a way that would compel them to live on the property. This is not unusual. Many landowners, especially young ones, are more interested in living in the city and in brick houses. Thus, the land becomes abandoned since lack of land management can quickly get out of hand and little by little, the land is lost.

Still, land ownership is still a big deal in the African American community. There are still many blacks who own land and much more who are stepping out there in the quest to secure acres of their own. Whether it’s an acre, five acres, or forty, I encourage the reestablishing of Black Land ownership, the education of farming and the motivation of our young people to truly understand what land has meant to us as a people—long before slavery we were a farming people—and what it means to us today.

My husband and I are starting by growing our garden in the backyard. We may not have our acres yet but its a start! We’re growing Spinach, Onions, Tomatoes, Lettuce, Basil, Thyme, Rosemary, and Oregano.

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