Campus display showcases African American inventors

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CSUN’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has erected a display around the grass areas of the Sierra Quad, showcasing inventions and contributions by African Americans throughout history.

Some of the displayed inventions have become part of one’s daily routine, while others range from achievements in science and medicine that have contributed to improving the quality of health care, to advancements in aerospace technology that have helped shape the view of the planet.

The display is intended to show that without African American innovation, commonplace things such as the pencil sharpener, hairbrush and bicycle would have either never existed or would not have become the products people are familiar with today. The display will remain until Friday.

“The purpose of the display is to show African American contributions to American society that normally would go unrecognized,” said Sky Kuku, vice president of the CSUN chapter of the NAACP. “John Albert Burr invented the lawn mower, M.A. Cherry invented the early form of the bicycle (and) Richard Spikes invented the automated gear shift.”

Conceived, created and assembled by campus NAACP members, the display consists of numerous standing signboards lining the main walkways of Sierra Quad, so that students can stop and read them on the way to class.

“I think it’s great,” said Hugo Jacinto, junior electrical engineering major. “I’ve heard of these people, but I never actually knew what they did.”

Jacinto was interested in Lyda Newman, who made improvements to the hairbrush, as well as by the first African American to lead troops into battle in World War I.

Some African Americans featured in the display were members of the scientific community, including Dr. Samuel Lee Kountz, Jr., a surgeon who participated in the first kidney transplant operation, and who discovered a key factor in the recognition and treatment of the body’s rejection of a new kidney.

George Carruthers was a physicist and aerospace engineer who invented the far ultraviolet camera spectrograph, which was carried to the moon aboard Apollo 16 in 1972. This allowed scientists a means by which to assess pollutant levels in Earth’s atmosphere.

Dr. Mae Jemison became the first African American woman in space when she joined the crew of the space shuttle Endeavor in September 1992. She has also worked extensively with the National Institute of Health and the Centers for Disease Control as a member of the teams that developed and researched Hepatitis B, schistosomiasis and rabies vaccines.

Other individuals spotlighted were business people who were instrumental in advancing African Americans as a whole, or helping individual communities improve their quality of life.

Phillip A. Payton, for instance, president of the African American Realty Co. of New York City, prevented a white-owned realty company from replacing the black tenants on Harlem’s West 135th Street with whites in the early 1900s, as part of a drive to save Harlem for African Americans.

Anthony Overton founded Overton Hygienic Products in 1898, and by the time he moved his business to Chicago in 1911, he was making $1 million a year, and was internationally famous for developing his line of High Brown Cosmetics. In 1922, with the money earned and saved from his business, Overton opened the Douglass National Bank for African Americans in Chicago.

Other African Americans were responsible for many creations and ideas that have shaped modern life.

Garret Augustus Morgan invented the concept of “stop” and “go” signals for traffic, and his idea is the basis for traffic lights and stop signs. He also developed a gas mask worn by firefighters and World War I soldiers.

Alice Parker made improvements to the gas heater, allowing central heating in buildings or houses.

Another African American inventor, William Purvis, was responsible for improving the fountain pen so it was more reliable and could be easily used and carried.

“It’s rather stunning when you look at how much space across the campus this (display) takes up, and you realize that this is a very small sample (of achievers),” said Larry Stoffel, professor in the Music Department. “It just goes to show how underrepresented certain segments of the population are.”

“I think it was a joy to see,” said Frank Joyner, sophomore political science major. “I appreciate what it represents and who was behind it. It’s inspirational.”