Thomas Edison may have gotten the credit for inventing the light bulb, but it was Lewis Latimer, an inventor whose parents had been enslaved in Virginia, who perfected its carbon filament.
This interesting point of history was among many made by Tyler Turman, the featured guest speaker for the John de la Howe School’s Black History Month observance and dinner.
A senior and class president at McCormick High School, Turman gave a comprehensive presentation on “What Black History Means to Me.” His talk revealed interesting facts about the contributions that black men and women have made to U.S. history, as well as the contributions to Americans’ social and cultural lives.
From George Crum’s invention of the potato chip in 1853 to the many “firsts” of African Americans — Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space, in 1992, and Thurgood Marshall, the first black chief justice on the U.S. Supreme Court – Turman provided a dynamic program that emphasized how black men and women not only were part of his own history but that of the nation as a whole.
American slaves, who arrived in the 17th century and their descendants who worked on plantations and in predominantly white communities until the end of the Civil War, “helped make America into the powerhouse it is today.”
Turman, who will attend Clemson University in the fall to pursue studies in mechanical engineering, said there is “a bright future ahead because of black history.”
Carley Martin was the winner of the JDLH essay contest, titled “What Does Black History Mean?”
Martin read her essay which highlighted the accomplishments of Cathay Williams, a soldier in the U.S. Army. Williams was born into slavery in Jefferson City, Mo. When Union forces occupied the city, they viewed slaves as “contraband,” and many, including Williams, were taken to assist in support roles. In 1866, Williams enlisted in the U.S. Army as William Cathay and became the only woman documented to serve posing as a man. She also has the distinction of being the first African-American woman to enlist.
Martin said she chose Williams because of her courage and strength. “She had physical and mental talent.”
JDLH students presented a series of biographical sketches called “Who Am I?” that celebrated the achievements of black athletes, civil rights activists and cultural leaders, as well as those who worked to abolish slavery. A skit commemorated the refusal of civil rights activist Rosa Parks to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus – an act that ignited a boycott of buses by blacks in Montgomery and brought attention to the nation’s unfair segregation laws.
JDLH student Donte Reid read the poem “Reality” that he had written for the event.
Dr. James Franklin, JDLH interim superintendent, praised the students for their work to produce the program. “This event shows our great our students can be. You are creative, smart, articulate and brave,” Franklin said.
Franklin praised Turman’s efforts to succeed academically and JDLH student Joana Cano for her delivery of the poem “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou. Cano is a member of the JROTC program at McCormick High School where she is Miss Senior.
“Each of these students is planning to attend college, and we are proud of them,” he said.