When I think of the most important and challenging issue in America, I think of race relations and the importance of racial unity. I and many people I know are ardent supporters of social change in this regard. What would it be like to live in a world in which we are committed to examining our prejudices, acknowledging our country’s history, working to heal from the past? Then our friendships can become truly multi-racial and multicultural. Something to contemplate and work for as we celebrate Black History month this year!

Today I read an article by Kia T Cooper-Erbst, who points out that whenever black history is taught in schools, we “only cover certain topics or even people such as Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr, and Rosa Parks because they are considered safe to teach about. Slavery is rarely taught, and it usually goes straight to the civil rights movement of the ‘60s. Black history is more than that because every aspect of American history has been touched and built upon by a black person.”

That grabbed me. Every aspect. Something that deserves our attention and awareness, for sure.

The article starts with this question:

In 1897, Alfred L. Cralle became the first African-American to receive a patent in Pittsburgh for inventing what kitchen tool?

  1. Ice Cream Scoop
  2. Jelly Mold
  3. Potato Peeler
  4. Salad Spinner

Not having any idea, I went to the answer:

A. Alfred L. Cralle revolutionized the world of frozen dessert with his invention, the ice cream scoop!

Of course, it would be fascinating to learn how Alfred Cralle did this in 1897, before the Harlem Renaissance when many people began to wake up to the possibilities for the advancement of people of color.

The author highlighted other black inventors: Marie Van Brittan Brown, a woman who created the first home security system back in 1966; Alice H Parker, who invented the gas furnace sometime around 1918; Lewis Temple, a successful businessman born into slavery who operated a whale craft shop on the New Bedford waterfront and invented the whaling harpoon in 1848; Sarah Elisabeth Goode, who invented the folding bed in 1885; and others.


These resourceful people excelled in the arena of invention, and there are countless other examples, some lost to history and some who may never be known even if history has recorded them. It is sad to think of human achievements lost or diminished because of the aspect of race.

Intelligence, resourcefulness, creativity, perseverance, courage—these are not attributes exemplified by one race or another; they are human qualities that can be cultivated and nurtured by all of us. But what if one race is held back from education, opportunity, encouragement, acknowledgment? I often think of the painting by Palmer Hayden “The Janitor Who Paints” created during the Harlem Renaissance and contemplate how much sheer determination the man depicted demonstrated—working a demanding job by day and coming home to a family and still picking up a paintbrush! That, to me, is heroic.

So let’s go “above and beyond” this month—and all year—as we celebrate the reality and achievements of African Americans—those who continue to withstand social pressure and prejudice just to navigate the lives they lead! In fact, let’s challenge the boundaries of “us” and “them” and own the fact that the human race is one species, with the potential to enjoy the benefits of cooperation and friendship, mutual respect, and justice. Yes?

Article Submitted by Anne Perry, Commissioner
Multicultural Social Engagement Partnership (MSEP)

Learn more about the Multicultural Social Engagement Partnership

Alfred L. Cralle