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A black man invented the traffic light and the gas mask.



Published: Thu, February 24, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



A black man invented the traffic light and the gas mask.

YOUNGSTOWN -- Amazement was 9-year-old Jakia Roland's response.

"I can't believe black folks invented all this stuff," Jakia said.

She was one of the pupils in Chris Cipriano's fourth-grade class at Cleveland Elementary School who viewed "Reflections in Black: African-American History on Wheels," an exhibit set up Wednesday in the gym. The school, on Youngstown's South Side, hosted the museum designed to give the pupils a deeper understanding and appreciation for how blacks have contributed to American history as well as to show the pupils and their teachers many every-day products invented by black people.

The four-hour event was broken into 12 sessions lasting 20 minutes each. The pupils in grades one through six had an opportunity to see displays showcasing items that blacks invented more than 100 years ago and learn about discoveries and improvements to people's way of life that various black scientists made.

As they walked around, pupils and teachers were able to read about how Frederick McKinley Jones, despite being an orphan with a sixth-grade education, gave the world its first refrigerated truck, which made it easier to transport food longer distances to grocery and other stores before it spoiled. They also learned about Lewis H. Latimer, who drew the blueprints for Alexander Graham Bell's telephone in preparation for its patent, as well as Norbert Rillieux, an inventor who revolutionized the sugar industry by replacing a molasses-like sugar with the refined crystals used today.

The children and adults found out that Granville T. Woods never finished elementary school. That didn't stop him, however, from later having more than 100 patents for various electrical and mechanical inventions.

Famous black women

They also read autobiographical information about famous black women such as Mahalia Jackson and Althea Gibson. Jackson was a gospel singer with a career spanning nearly 50 years; Gibson was ranked as a No. 1 women tennis player in the late 1950s.

Also on display were replicas of a gas mask and large traffic light, both invented by Garrett A. Morgan. In the 1920s, Morgan's first traffic signal, which was operated by a crank, was installed at Euclid Avenue and 105th Street in Cleveland.

Other tables featured common items such as a bottle of cooking oil, window cleaner and a house and street letter box. A model of an improved fire extinguisher also was on hand.

On one tripod was a depiction of those inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame. They included George Washington Carver, who developed crop rotation methods for conserving nutrients in the soil and discovered numerous new uses for crops.

Clifton Brown, director of Reflections in Black Museum Inc. and host of the event, took time to speak to the pupils about various facets of black history. He told them about the significance of June 19, when Juneteenth is celebrated to mark the day the last slaves were freed.

"It's our Fourth of July," he said.

Importance of discussion

Brown stressed that it's important to talk about topics like slavery, racism and violence against black people, even though they're uncomfortable for some.

"Slavery was an ugly thing and a lot of people don't want to talk about it, but we need to talk about it," he told the kids, urging them to "practice love. We need one another."

Brown said he started the museum in 1998 and has traveled in four states so far. Brown, of Macedonia, Ohio, added that he wants to educate people on blacks' accomplishments and "what we have contributed to the world, not just America."

"I hope the kids can see the inventions and that that might motivate them to say, 'I might invent something.' If you read about history, you can talk about it, but it's much better to look at it," he said.




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