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Black Wednesday

Terry Joseph
February 27, 2002

While we were completely consumed by a conspiracy of distraction involving Carnival, bizarre politics and anxieties resulting from runaway crime, Black History Month sailed by largely unnoticed.

Happily, we can still dedicate today to salvaging the remaining hours of this year’s observance, compensating for tardiness by approaching the shrine in a way that deliberately avoids shaking colourful pom-poms at hackneyed examples.

Instead, let us consider what civilisation might have lacked in the absence of black input. For openers, The Bible would have been a mere pamphlet and modern medicine left to scare up paternity without help from Imhotep, inventor of the very stethoscope.

But let’s get nearer home on this Wednesday and enjoy the many basic comforts provided by black inventiveness. Wake up, check telephone messages while reaching for a hairbrush, open curtains and look through a window. Oh no! The lawn sprinkler stayed on all night. The front porch is flooded.

So far, your day desperately needs black inventions for solace. First, the telephone system developed by Granville T Woods from Alexander Graham Bell’s rudimentary single-call version, then the cellular form patented by Henry Sampson on July 6, 1971.

Lyda Newman came up with the hairbrush, SR Scottron the curtain-rod and the window is clear because of AL Lewis’s determination to find a solution to dirty panes. JW Smith devised the lawn sprinkler and the handy mop is from TW Stewart. If water spill continues, praise God for Jerry Johnson’s idea of the plumbing wrench.

At breakfast, go for the refrigerator J Standard invented then an egg-beater from the clever mind of Willie Johnson. Add refined sugar (the brainchild of N Rillieux) to your coffee and if your morning beverage comes from a bottle, its cap was more than likely fashioned after the Jones & Long model.

Perhaps you’ll settle for a peanut butter sandwich, the filling made possible by George Washington Carver’s tireless experiments with agricultural produce and fossil feedstock.

During the average day, it is difficult to avoid being touched by at least one of Carver’s inventions. A descendant of former slaves, he also discovered adhesives, axle-grease, bleach, buttermilk, chili sauce, domestic ink, instant coffee, linoleum, mayonnaise, meat tenderiser, metal polish, plastic, shaving cream, shoe polish, synthetic rubber, talcum powder, 500 shades of fabric dye and wood-stains.

On July 14, 1943, US President Franklin Roosevelt honoured Carver with a national monument. The area near his childhood home of Diamond Grove, Missouri is preserved as a national park.

Back home, it is time to get the children off to nursery and primary school, as the happy couple joins the rat race one more time. When you put baby in the buggy, think of WH Richardson and remember too that Junior’s bicycle frame was the handiwork of LR Johnson (the boy has long discarded that first tricycle, patterned after the one patented by MA Cherry on May 6, 1886).

In the car, Frederick Jones offers the ignition starter to tumble his internal combustion engine, the chambers of which are fired by Edmond Berger’s revolutionary spark plug.

Your automatic gear-shift was thought up by RB Spikes and hydraulic shock absorption by Ralph Sanderson. The traffic lights attest to the genius of Garret Morgan and if you’re driving behind a truck with air-brakes and forced to “Keep 17 Metres Away”, blame Granville T Woods.

At least you got to the office. Experience the elevator created by Alexander Miles, make a fashion statement with the fountain pen, a now highly evolved edition of WB Purvis’ basic writing instrument. Use FW Leslie’s envelope seals to maintain confidentiality and John Love’s pencil sharpener to keep rough notes looking neat. Cool. Frederick Jones was the person who introduced the world to air-conditioning on July 12, 1949.

Safety at the workplace owes a lot to P Johnson’s eye protector, Tom J Marshall’s fire extinguisher and (if all else fails) JB Winters’s expanding fire-escape ladder. On the desk, it is the collective brilliance of Mark Dean and Dennis Moeller that allows computers to accommodate peripherals like disk drives, video and audio gear, scanners and printers. It was Dean who first broke the 1,000 Megahertz barrier.

At the end of a long day, you check the mailbox Paul Downing felt would be a good idea. Mummy is thankful for Maurice Lee’s pressure-cooker as she combines dinner-preparation with laundry, stuffing clothes into the dryer willed us by GT Sampson and unfolding Sarah Boone’s ironing board for the impending task. Good father is meanwhile attacking the still damp lawn with an upgraded version of the mower that LA Burr premiered on May 19, 1889.

Soon enough, it is bedtime again. A little spray from the old-fashioned insect destroyer (Flit) gun, the legacy of AC Richard, makes sleep easy, only to come awake again tomorrow to the realisation that black people donated a helluva lot more than athletic and musical entertainment to upliftment of the human condition.

And if it seems none of the above required any skill at rocket science, think of Adolph Shamms stunning the world with the multi-stage inter-planetary rocket or, staying within the stratosphere, Paul E Williams’ priceless contribution of the helicopter.

The full list of everyday necessities patented by blacks comprise a gift of enormous value to mankind, inventions that enhance quality of life which is, after all, the real thing or, to conscript the name of another famous black inventor, the real McCoy.

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