Black History Month exhibit shines light on little-known inventors

rpulley@lsjournal.comFebruary 17, 2017 

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    Suburban Balance is an organization with a membership of nearly 100 black and mixed-race families from Blue Springs, Lee’s Summit, Kansas City, and Johnson County, who meet for fellowship, entertainment and cultural activities. More information can be found on their Facebook page Suburban Balance.

Ever wonder who invented the traffic signal?

While there were early versions, Garrett Morgan, an African American inventor, is credited with the idea for the familiar stop, caution and go signal. He patented his device in 1923, among other inventions, including a gas mask used during World War 1.

Morgan is one of eight African American inventors visitors can learn about from an exhibit prepared for Black History Month by students from Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs and other school districts.

“This is something new and different,” said Charles Belt, principal of Blue Springs South High School, where the exhibit is on display.

“It is my hope it’s the beginning of a new tradition for Black History Month. They did a tremendous service to the school community.”

The exhibit was created by members of Suburban Balance, an organization created to serve minority students in Jackson and Johnson counties who attend suburban schools. It holds cultural events and service projects to allow those students and their families to meet more of their peers.

Belt said teachers such as Garrett Smith have been using it as a learning tool. Smith, who teaches a business class, assigned his students to view the exhibit and then write reflections in their journals they keep for his class.

Belt said the students did an excellent job of research and presentation. He credited the vision and leadership of Suburban Balance director LaShawn Walker in making it happen. Walker’s son is a student at Blue Springs South High School.

Walker said the student leaders came up with the idea for the project, did the research and designed the props for the exhibit.

They created the exhibit based on discoveries of eight little-known African Americans who who made a mark on everyday life for many Americans.

The other lives the celebrated in the exhibit:

• Sarah Boone: ironing board

• Madame CJ Walker: hair-care products

• Lewis Latimer: carbon filament light bulb

• Bessie Griffin: feeding device for war amputees

• Marie Brittan Brown: home security system

• Jan Ernst: Matzeliger: shoe lasting machine

• Granville T. Woods: multiplex telegraph.

Olivia Williams, of Grandview, is one of the African American students who helped research and write the biographies.

She said as a home-schooled student, she at first wondered if she’d fit into the project.

“One of the things I learned was how little I knew about black history,” she said. Textbooks covered Martin Luther King Jr. and other famous people, but there is much more depth to African American history, she said.

“I found out about amazing inventors I’d never heard of and I was so proud,” Williams said. “And proud to bring them to light and introduce them to other people.”

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