Are you hungry? Are you thirsty for some truth? It is time to come clean and make the wrong, right in American history. We might as well accept the fact that American history is comprised of the good, the bad and ugly events and circumstances. February is the annual observation of Black History Month in the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, and in the Netherlands, where it is known as Black Achievement Month. Black History Month has been celebrated every February, since 1970.
February is designed to bring awareness, unravel, inspire, honor and celebrate the struggles, challenges and contribution of African Americans; plus promote understanding, acceptance of diversity in schools, churches and communities. The contributions of African Americans in this country have far too often been neglected and pushed to the wayside. Thurgood Marshall, the first African American U.S. Supreme Court Justice stated, “In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.”
Let us reach for the stars in 2019 as we introduce many unspoken and unsung African American heroes with brilliant minds in technology and the web. Together we can cultivate the hearts and minds locally and celebrate the beauty, power and resilience of black communities.
A trail blazer in the real raw was Thomas L. Jennings. He was the first African American person to receive a patent in the U. S., paving the way for future inventors of color to gain exclusive rights to their inventions. Thomas Jennings was a free man at the time U. S. patent laws said that the “slave master is the owner of the fruits of the labor of the slave both manual and intellectual’- meaning slaves couldn’t legally own their ideas or inventions. Several decades later, Congress extended rights to all African American individuals, both slave and freedmen. Jennings used the money from his inventions to free the rest of his family and donate to abolitionist causes.
And now, an exemplary leader, Gladys Mae West, an African American woman from King George, Virginia, is the pioneer mathematician behind GPS technology (Global Positioning System)? The next time you use any navigation device or software like Google Maps, thank Dr. Gladys West. She was an engineer who worked at the Naval Support Facility in Dahlgran. She helped changed the military and the lives of everyday people. Currently in her late 80s, she has been inducted into the Air Force Hall of Fame.
Another phenomenal woman is Dr. Shirley Jackson, inventor of the touch tone telephone, caller ID and the fiber-optic cable. It’s tele-phonetic power to recognize a number and have the audacity to ignore it, then walk away smiling. Yes, Dr. Jackson, you did me a favor a million times over.
Let me introduce Dr. Mark E. Dean, another invisible African American think tank, an electrical engineer, inventor and innovator of the personal computer and of the ISA bus system. He led an IBM team to develop the first gigahertz chip capable of a billions calculations per second. He is credited for over 200 domestic and international patents. In addition, Mark Dean developed the first color computer monitor and is currently a computer science professor at the University of Tennessee. Go Big orange! There’s nothing like Rocky Top Tennessee.
Surely, you must have heard about Alexander Miles? Alexander Miles was an African American male inventor who was awarded a patent for the automatic opening and closing elevator door system we habitually use today. How effective would tall buildings or skyscrapers be without the use of elevators? We know that people are similar in many ways to an elevator. They can take you up, or they can take you down. Today, I choose to take you up.
Contemplate this perspective from Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African American female astronaut-- “Never be limited by other people’s imagination.”
Chris Tyson is a local contemporary columnist for The Huntsville Item.