Black History Moment – Did Blacks really invent the RollerCoaster? And Granville T. Woods…Do you know this man??

While getting my hair cut earlier this week, I couldn’t help but notice a radio ad that played for Black History Month and listed an African-American as the inventor of the rollercoaster.

I’ve heard this loosely before, and I know that within the last few decades, Black folk have made a habit out of claiming people and accomplishments in an effort to empower ourselves even at the expense of being historically inaccurate.

I wanted to find out just how true this really was. What I found on a brief search through the internet was not one mention of anyone Black in the timeline of rollercoaster ingenuity, but in fact, a discrepancy that would lead to the confusing information. The discrepancy comes from the claim of two Black inventors by the name of Stephen E. Jackman and Byron B. Floyd who developed a ride at a Massachusetts rink in the late 1800’s that set toboggan-style sleds on a track with multiple hills. They claimed to be the very first to use the name and term “rollercoaster”. This has never been documented in history as fact and therefore leads to gray area. But it lends itself to my initial scrutiny being that a loosely stated declaration such as the one of the radio ad that purported to credit Blacks with the invention of the rollercoaster can be taken all the way wrong. Even if the 2 men were indeed the very first to use the term, they are not the inventors of the coaster at all. The original patent for what we’ve come to know as the rollercoaster was granted to a white man named LaMarcus Adna Thompson years earlier, and the prototypical basis of the design comes from Russian constructs from almost a century earlier.

Even more interesting than that, were my findings on yet another Black Man whose name had popped up within the footnotes of my Black History studies, but never fully given his proper light. Granville T. Woods, who has helped in the sophistication of rollercoaster track engineering (particularly at Coney island), is the foremost and singlehandedly most influential Black mechanical inventor of the industrial revolution.

Known casually throughout text as the “Black Edison”, Woods was primarily a self-taught electrician and mechanist. He attended college to sharpen his skills and moved around the world as an engineer until finally settling back in his home state of Ohio and developing patents. Though born a free-man in Pre Civil War America, can you imagine how ridiculously hard it had to have been to be a Black Inventor at the turn of the 19th Century????

As his race played the most important factor in his lack of notoriety and upward mobility, many of his patents were forced to be sold to larger corporations such as the American Bell Telephone Company. In addition to that, he faced a number of legal woes as his White Contemporaries at the time, such as Thomas Edison, made claims to his patents. Ironically, he won against those claims, but ultimately lost when he was the one doing the accusing and served jail time for Criminal Libel.

Like many geniuses in their time, he died broke and under-acknowledged for his contributions to the field of Mechanical engineering and electrical systems. However, not many inventors have resumes that boast such a versatile range.

His patents were usually improvements to existing inventions that have managed to stand the test of time. They include those to an advanced telephone transmitter and the telegraphony, which combined voice and signal messages. This also included patents to an incubator for farms, street car wheel that gave birth to the name “trolley”, and his most famous invention, the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph – which revolutionized electronic railway communication and travel.

Google this man today and learn something new that’s very old…

This has been my Black History Moment


“Negroes In The News” – Black astronaut gets honored, & The Hip-Hop Juggler Gets his shine!

Let’s try something different.

As further proof that we are constantly learning and growing, I recently discovered the story of Ronald McNair, the second African-American astronaut ever in space.

It just so happens that the 25th anniversary of the tragic 1986 Challenger shuttle crash on which Ronald was a crew member has just passed, and to commemorate this, the building of a pivotal library from McNair’s youth in his South Carolina hometown has been named for him.

This is one of the 2 reasons that McNair has been surfacing in the news recently. I came across him from an article that I read in a local NYC newspaper focusing on the park that bears his name in Brooklyn and how his story has faded into relative obscurity. Whole generations (most likely beginning with mine) have passed, totally oblivious to his presence in the pages of astronomy and Black History. Since this is Negroes In The News, and Black History Month, I thought this was the perfect time to shine some light on him as well as someone in the present day making strides. 

These are the stories seldom told in the midst of the gross cliche and rhetoric that this month tends to bring. I prefer to focus on the modern Black History; that is, the history which is being made every day by our forward thinkers and doers. As a child, I was always fascinated by the existence of Black astronauts. Not fully understanding what it is exactly that astronauts do (and I STILL don’t have the faintest), but for a young kid being bombarded with the sci-fi and enamoring world of comic, cartoon and television imagery, THESE were the closest thing to superheroes in real life. Before rappers rose in popularity to become the ultimate larger-than-life figures. I couldn’t believe there were actually Black men and women building and riding in shuttles. I didn’t have time to fall into the fantasies of this however, because often in school, these folk were just footnotes in our Black History studies, along with all of the inventors, surgeons and those who ventured in the fields of hard science. Sadly, they were lost and overshadowed between the pages upon pages emphasizing on the less educated but more celebrated preachers, athletes and musicians.

And McNair’s resume is amazing! Comparable to any scientific peer of any race, while undeniably boasting a sense of Black pride. His progression in his personal life can be used to exemplify the heights to which African-Americans should aspire to as a whole. He reached academic and career pinnacles, and can even say that he attended an HBCU. He was a Black Belt in the field of martial arts and skilled with the saxophone – even going so far as to playing while in orbit. There’s also a school named after him. I won’t go on and on about his credentials, I’ll just point you toward this piece from the NPR that brilliantly weaves an anecdote shared by McNair’s brother into it’s write-up on him. Check it out and learn something. It’s shorter than this whole post!

Moving on to the second subject of our segment, I was ecstatic and super motivated and proud when I saw that my homegirl Starrene “GangStarrGirl” Rhett posted this article that features her best friend, Paris Goudie in Black Enterprise magazine.

I feel kinda wack because I know Paris well via Starrene, and have yet to catch his act. “The Hip-Hop Juggler”, as his performance title reads, is a true grinder. He found his way in a niche market and career field that is rarely thought of and under-appreciated, especially by people of color. His success goes against the very grain and his drive is inspiring to anyone, as he is one of those people who have truly followed their passion and stuck to what he does best!

I walk around with his card in my wallet and I can honestly say that he’s a genuinely honest and humble dude. Props to Black Enterprise for showcasing this young man and his choice to take the road less traveled. In more ways than one. I see you P!

This is Black History in the making…