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Scully: Black History Month

Posted: February 5, 2015 4:06 p.m.
Updated: February 6, 2015 1:00 a.m.

This community witnesses all-encompassing friendships among people of different educational backgrounds, income levels, and races. For some people, however, when it comes to race, the glass remains half-empty; they find it hard to move on from a difficult and painful past. Many others, to the contrary, celebrate our emergence as a nation that reflects all God’s children and gives hope that persons from different backgrounds can combine energies and ideas to create a spectacular new culture, as we are doing.

In 1974, President Gerald Ford declared February to be “Black History Month,” also known as African-American History Month, an annual observance in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom to remember significant people and events in the history of the African Diaspora.

African-American strength in adversity and a seemingly bottomless faith in this country have proven transformative in every field and help define us as a people. Here are some black inventors and visionaries, in alphabetical order, who perhaps need to be acknowledged:

Archie Alphonso Alexander (1888-1958) -- the first African-American to graduate from the University of Iowa’s College of Engineering, in 1929 formed Alexander & Repass, responsible for constructing many roads and bridges, including the Whitehurst Freeway, Tidal Basin Bridge, and an extension to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. With business partner, George Higbee, Alexander designed the Tuskegee Airfield and the Iowa State University heating and cooling system. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Alexander Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Patricia Bath, MD (1942) -- an ophthalmologist, became the first African-American female doctor to patent a medical invention, a method for removing cataract lenses which transformed eye surgery with a laser device, the Cataract Laserphaco Probe. Bath founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness.

Charles Richard Drew, MD (1904-1950) -- a surgeon and medical researcher in the field of blood transfusions and blood storage, he developed large-scale blood banks early in World War II, saving thousands of lives of the Allied forces. Drew also protested against the practice of racial segregation in the donation of blood. Out of his work came the American Red Cross Blood Bank.

Frederick McKinley Jones (1893-1961) -- his innovations in refrigeration brought great improvement to the long-haul transportation of perishable goods. Portable cooling units Jones designed were especially important during World War II, preserving blood, medicine and food for use at Army hospitals and on open battlefields.

Percy Lavon Julian (1899-1975) -- with more than 130 chemical patents, he was the first to synthesize the natural product physostigmine, and was a pioneer in the industrial large-scale chemical synthesis of the human hormones progesterone and testosterone from plant sterols such as stigmasterol and sitosterol. His work laid the foundation for the drug industry’s production of cortisone, other corticosteroids, and birth control pills.

Ernest Everett Just (1883-1941) -- a South Carolina biologist, was the first to recognize the role of the cell surface in the development of organisms within marine biology, cytology, and parthenogenesis. A magna cum laude Dartmouth graduate, Just received his PhD in zoology from the University of Chicago in 1916 with a thesis on the mechanics of fertilization. He authored Basic Methods for Experiments on Eggs of Marine Animals (1939) and The Biology of the Cell Surface (1939), and also published at least 70 papers in cytology, fertilization and early embryonic development.

Charles Henry Turner (1867-1923) -- research biologist, zoologist, and comparative psychologist; in 1907, became the first African-American to earn a PhD from the University of Chicago. Turner published 49 papers on invertebrates and was the first to prove insects can hear and can distinguish pitch. In addition, he first discovered cockroaches can learn by trial and error and that honeybees can see color.

Daniel Hale Williams, MD (1856-1931) -- performed the first known open-heart surgery in the U.S. In 1891, he opened Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses, the nation’s first hospital with a racially integrated staff. In 1895, he co-founded the National Medical Association for black medical practitioners, as an alternative to the American Medical Association, which disallowed African-American members.

The list of achieving African-American novelists, painters, entertainers, athletes, scientists, military leaders, and business people in the last 100 years would take up this entire newspaper. In the meantime, the planned expansion of the Central Carolina Technical College offers hope for the next generation of inventors, both black and white, to work together to bring us to a higher level of excellence and success.

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