Black History: Special Delivery!!


November 2015

Miriam Benjamin: Black Inventor

Black History:  Special Delivery!!

The Gong and Signal Chair – Patent Drawing

Black Mail Fast Fact: Miriam Benjamin created an invention which would improve customer service within the hotel and restaurant industries. Her invention would also help these industries be more efficient with their staffing. Benjamin developed a system for customers to quietly alert staff when they were in need of service. She called her invention, “The Gong and Signal Chair”.  It was first patented in 1888. Using her invention, the customer was able to press a button on the back of their chair which would relay a signal to hotel or restaurant staff. A light on the chair would also illuminate to show staff where the customer was seated. The invention became so popular that a number of them were even installed in the House of Representatives.  Miriam Benjamin was the second black woman to receive a U.S. patent.

Benjamin Thornton: Invented Telephone Message Recorder

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Benjamin Thornton Patent Drawing

Black Mail Fast Fact: Black inventor, Benjamin Thornton developed a device for recording voice messages from telephones in 1936. His invention was outfitted with a turntable for a record disc, an electric motor to operate the table, and an electric switch that connected it to the phone line. Utilizing a clock attachment, the machine could also forward messages as well as track what time a call was made. The recorder also had an apparatus that allowed the user to record an outgoing message. Devices invented to record phone messages date back to the late 1800s. So Thornton’s invention was not the first of its kind. However, the devices’ ability to both record and send messages, along with its ability to record the time of messages was quite significant. Thornton’s invention was a predecessor to the answering machine.


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Barrington Irving – African American Pilot:

Book of Negroes:

“Faith Is Taking The First Step Even When You Don’t See The Whole Staircase.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Barrington Irving: First African American To Fly Around The World Solo At Age 23

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Barrington Irving in 2007 as he returns from his around the world flight.

 Barrington Irving (1983 – ) developed an interest in flying through a chance encounter when a man in a flight uniform came into to the bookstore owned by his parents. The man asked Irving if he had ever considered a career in aviation. Initially, he told the man that he did not think he was smart enough to pursue such a career. However, the conversation did pique his interest and through this encounter he had the opportunity to sit inside a plane cockpit.

Irving was unable to afford flight lessons right away. So he saved his money and purchased a computer flight simulator game that he used for practice. He continued to save up money until he was able to afford private flight lessons. Irving obtained his pilot’s license at 19. By the time Irving was 21, he had already begin to think about the legacy he wanted to leave. He had lost many friends due to violence or prison and wanted his life to go in a different direction and have a positive impact. He decided that flying around the world would be something he could do to leave a positive legacy.  He began to pursue this goal, but faced many challenges for almost 2.5 years. At a cost of $650,000, purchasing his own aircraft would have been impossible for Irving. He decided to approach companies and ask them to donate parts to help build the plane. Eventually he was able to secure all of the parts which were needed.

In 2007, his plane, “Inspiration” was finally ready. The plane had no radar, no de-icing system when he left Miami. His flight around the world would take 97 days and 27,000 miles to complete. Thousands awaited him when he returned to Miami on March 23, 2007. He was then, the youngest person ever to fly solo around the world. This record has since been broken by a 22 year old, Swiss pilot. Irving was struck by the number of young people who had followed his flight around the world.  He used this inspiration to start his own non-profit, Experience Aviation. The non-profit serves students in Miami’s failing high schools to teach them about aviation and get students excited by STEM fields.

Check out this inspiring video and hear Barrington Irving’s talk about his flight around the world!

Did you miss our previous post? Click here to learn about, “The Book of Negroes” compiled by the British during the American Revolutionary War.

The Book of Negroes: A Record of Enslaved Blacks Who Fought For The British During the American Revolutionary War In Exchange For Freedom

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Book of Negroes

The Book of Negroes: A Record of Enslaved Blacks Who Fought For The British During the American Revolutionary War In Exchange For Freedom

The Book of Negroes chronicles over 3,000 enslaved African Americans who fought for the British during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). The liberation of American colonies from British rule was the goal of the war. For the chance at freedom, enslaved blacks took up arms against the American colonies. They knew that American independence and freedom from British rule, would not result in them being freed from slavery.

For their loyalty to the British, more than 3,000 enslaved and free black people were relocated to Nova Scotia, Canada. They would become the first settlement of Black Canadians. The presence of this document reflects the inherent contradiction of the American colonies quest for freedom and independence; the contradiction being that the newly forming America would deny enslaved blacks the same rights that it sought for itself.

The possibility of freedom offered by The British to those who survived the war was a powerful recruitment tool. Ironically blacks who were free were more likely to support the American Patriots rather than the British. Their support was based largely on the promise of land. Nearly 1/3 of the newly re-settled blacks who went to Nova Scotia would resettle again on the continent of African in Sierra Leone.

In 2007, Lawrence Hall published a work of fiction, “The Book of Negroes” based on the quest of enslaved Africans who sought to gain their freedom by fighting for the British.  In February 2015, BET aired a 6 part miniseries based on the book.


Did you miss yesterday’s post? Click here to view a powerful quote from James Baldwin

Quote: People Can Cry Much Easier Thank They Can Change. -James Baldwin

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“People can cry much easier than they can change.” -James Baldwin

Did you miss yesterday’s post?  Click here to learn about Lloyd Gains, his Supreme Court victory and mysterious disappearance.


Supreme Court Victory and Mysterious Disappearance of Lloyd Gaines

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Lloyd Gaines Dec 1938
Lloyd Gaines – December 1938

Lloyd Gaines (1911-?) is a little known civil rights pioneer. With the recent racial tensions being publicized at the University of Missouri, it seems only fitting to reflect on Gaines fight against discrimination. Born in Mississippi, his mother moved with him and his siblings to St. Louis when he was 14. Gaines excelled in his studies and received a scholarship to Lincoln University. After finishing at Lincoln University, Gaines applied to the University of Missouri Law School. He was denied admission due to his race. He sued in state court to gain admission but lost. His NAACP legal defense team hoped to challenge “separate but equal laws” that were in place at the time. Gaines NAACP legal defense team encouraged him to pursue the case further.

His case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court (Gaines v. Canada) and was heard in 1938. (Canada was the name of the university registrar). While the case matriculated through the court system, Gaines earned a masters degree from the University of Michigan. The court surprisingly ruled in his favor; declaring that the university would have to admit Gaines to the all white law school or create a law school for black students. It seemed that Gaines dream would come true and he would be able to attend law school at the University of Missouri as its first African American ever enrolled.

However, things would soon change for Gaines. On March 19, 1939, Gaines told a roommate that he was going out to buy stamps. He left home and was never seen or heard from again. The mystery of his disappearance remains unsolved to this day.   Many questions remain. Did he vanish to protect himself and his family? Could he have left the country? Committed suicide due to the pressure he was facing? Was he murdered? The case has never been thoroughly investigated. Gaines did share with relatives and close friends that he was having trouble finding steady work; which he needed to pay for school expenses. The publicity and notoriety of the case also seemed to be causing him some ambivalence as well. In a letter written to his mother a few days before his disappearance, Gaines wrote:

“As for my publicity relative to the university case, I have found that my race still likes to applaud, shake hands, pat me on the back and say how great and noble is the idea,” he wrote his mother in St. Louis days before disappearing. “How historical and socially important the case but — and there it ends.” He added, “Sometimes I wish I were just a plain, ordinary man whose name no one recognized.”

The University attempted to skirt the decision of the supreme court by setting up a black law school through Lincoln University. The school was to operate out of an old beauty parlor. This maneuver by the University prompted Gaines legal team to reach out to him address this new development. That is when it was discovered that he was missing. Gaines had demonstrated some odd behaviors throughout the supreme court case. So the legal team was unsure of what have happened. He had told some that he would be attending the University of Missouri; but told his mother that he would not be attending. His mother told him that she felt it was too dangerous and that he should not attend. The family never filed a missing persons report. His mother believed that he would resurface when he was ready. He never did. The family has never moved to have Gaines declared legally dead.

The University of Missouri would not begin admitting blacks again until the 1950’s. Gaines was awarded an honorary law degree in 2006 and also posthumously awarded a license to practice law.

Trivia Answer

Black History:  Special Delivery!!

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Maya Angelou

Earlier today, we asked our Black Mail Readers  Which African American Woman Was First To Author A Non-Fiction Bestseller?  The answer is B) Maya Angelou.  “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” published in 1969 would make her the first African American woman to author a non fiction best seller. 

A)Zora Neal Hurston

B) Maya Angelou

C)Alice Walker

D)Toni Morrison


It Always Seems Impossible Until It’s Done. -Nelson Mandela

Black History:  Special Delivery!!

Quote: “It always seems impossible until it’s done” – Nelson Mandela

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