Black history lessons may be late, but they#039;re worth wait

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 7, 2005

Talk to Laverne Thomas for a few minutes and her infectious smile will get you.

Thomas, an Ironton native, called a couple of weeks ago. A day or two after our call, there we were sitting on her sofa and talking as if we'd known one another for years.

She has that way about her.

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I suspect in her younger years when she could get around better, Laverne never met a stranger.

Like many black people who grew up before many public places were fully integrated, Laverne did not realize the great accomplishments of her black ancestors.

"Until several years ago, I didn't know we had a history," she said. "I knew we had a past by word of mouth from our grandparents and great-grandparents. It was all about slavery - how things were and how they were changing."

Laverne and later her children all attended Ironton public schools. And although all were integrated at the time, black students and their parents still lived in a parallel world with their lighter-skinned neighbors.

"History was always a part of our curriculum," Thomas said. "Black history was never mentioned."

As our conversation continued, we began talking about how one day, perhaps, no one will see color. And "black history" will be a part of American history, equal in all respects.

Then, Laverne pulled out a list of black inventors and their inventions.

The list, which she said was only a partial list, contained more than 65 black inventors and their inventions.

Most of us have heard of George Washington Carver. The man did amazing things with the peanut, eventually creating the forefather of the tasty peanut butter that fills everything from candy bars to sandwiches.

Have you ever heard of G.T. Sampson?

Well, if you've got a clothes dryer, you have Sampson to thank.

How about Frederick M. Jones? You must have heard of him, right?

No, well, anytime you go to the grocery store and pick up some fresh fruit, you should thank Mr. Jones.

The Cincinnati inventor created the first refrigeration unit for a truck, allowing fresh fruits and vegetables to be transported all across America.

The list could go on and on.

Not surprisingly, these black inventors have also managed to add words to the vocabulary, too.

Have you ever heard someone say, "That's the real McCoy?"

Chances are the person saying it didn't know where it came from but the phrase comes from Elijah McCoy's lubricating oil cup. The invention revolutionized the industrial machine industry by allowing moving parts to be oiled while they kept moving.

Needless to say, Lavern Thomas said she's learned a lot about black history in the past several years. And now that makes two of us.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Ironton Tribune. He can be reached at (740) 532-1445, ext. 12 or by e-mail to