Professor Henry FraserArchitecural Historian / Heritage Consultant
Chairman, Sentinel Committee, Barbados National Trust
Writer, TV Presenter, National Orator & Motivational Speaker
Professor Emertius, Medicine and Clinical Pharmacology.
Immediate Past Dean, Faculty of Medical Sciences.
University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados.


January 16th was Martin Luther King Day, celebrating the birth of America’s great 20th century hero and freedom fighter.  January the 21st was Errol Barrow Day, celebrating our own National Hero and Father of Independence. January is appropriately followed by African History month and today’s column celebrates some of our black heroes and great inventors. It was stimulated by the following text emailed to me by a friend:
Life Without Black People – A 'NEW AMERICA'  -  not America at all - only a barren land.

1. There are very few crops that have flourished because the nation was built on a slave-supported system.

2. There are no cities with tall skyscrapers because Alexander Mils, a black man, invented the (electric) elevator, and without it, one finds great difficulty reaching higher floors. (Actually, the correct spelling is Miles, and his electric elevator soon replaced the original steam driven elevator)

3. There are few if any cars because Richard Spikes, a black man, invented the automatic gearshift, Joseph Gambol, also black, invented the Super Charge System for Internal Combustion Engines, and Garrett A. Morgan, a black man, invented the traffic signals (and the gas mask!).

4. Furthermore, one could not use the rapid transit system because its procurer was the electric trolley, which was invented by another black man, Albert R. Robinson.

5. Even if there were streets on which cars and a rapid transit system could operate, they were cluttered with paper because an African American, Charles Brooks, invented the street sweeper..

6. There were few if any newspapers, magazines and books because John Love invented the pencil sharpener, William Purveys invented the fountain pen, and Lee Barrage invented the Type Writing Machine and W. A. Love invented the Advanced Printing Press. They were all, you guessed it, Black.

7. Even if Americans could write their letters, articles and books, they would not have been transported by mail because William Barry invented the Postmarking and Cancelling Machine, William Purveys invented the Hand Stamp and Philip Downing invented the Letter Drop.

8. The lawns were brown and wilted because Joseph Smith invented the Lawn Sprinkler and John Burr the Lawn Mower.

9. When they entered their homes, they found them to be poorly ventilated and poorly heated. You see, Frederick Jones invented the Air Conditioner and Alice Parker the Heating Furnace. Their homes were also dim. But of course, Lewis Latimer later invented the Electric Lamp, Michael Harvey invented the lantern, and Granville T. Woods invented the Automatic Cut off Switch. Their homes were also filthy because Thomas W. Steward invented the Mop and Lloyd P. Ray the Dust Pan.

10. Their children met them at the door - barefooted, shabby, motley and unkempt.  But what could one expect? Jan E. Matzelinger invented the Shoe Lasting Machine, Walter Sammons invented the Comb, Sarah Boone invented the Ironing Board, and George T. Samon invented the Clothes Dryer.

11. Finally, they were resigned to at least have dinner amidst all of this turmoil. But here again, the food had spoiled because another Black Man, John Standard invented the refrigerator.

Now, isn't that something? What would this country be like without the contributions of Blacks, as African-Americans?

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, 'by the time we leave for work, millions of Americans have depended on the inventions from the minds of Blacks.'

Black history includes more than just slavery, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Marcus Garvey & W.E.B. Dubois.

And these are only some of the great African American and Caribbean men and women who have made a difference in the world.

Barbados has its own considerable list of eminent, world class achievers, apart from our National Heroes - black, brown and white, but all Bajans - who have made their names across the globe: from Prince Hall, founder of the African Grand Lodge in Boston in 1784, and predecessor of thousands of Prince Hall Masons, to Dame Nita Barrow, President of the World YWCA and our fourth native Governor General; from Professor Wesley Bourne and Sir George Alleyne, Director Emeritus of PAHO, to Professor Anselm Hennis, Director of our CDRC and global research leader, and the hundreds of leading physicians across North America; from swimmer and life guard Joe Fortes in Vancouver (and hundreds of other Bajan-Canadians) and Sir Frank Worrell to Brian Talma and Suki King; and even Irenaeus Harper (1821 – 86) whose discovery of sugar cane seedlings led to our leading the world in sugar cane breeding (See A – Z of Barbados Heritage); and we could go on ... and on … and on!

We must rejoice in the achievements of so many, but we must ALL strive to be the best we can be – to be creative, conscientious and committed to building Barbados – this means being “strict guardians of our heritage”, but also, very much “firm craftsmen of our fate.” To borrow the Lodge School motto, possunt quia posse videntur, “We can because (and if) we think we can”!

Watch this space – coming soon to Speightstown – “a Magnificent happening” – a celebration of inspiration, creativity, history and beauty!

Professor Fraser is Past President of the Barbados National Trust, and past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI.

Henry Fraser Historic Houses Of Barbados Book CoverHistoric Houses of Barbados
Written by Henry Fraser & Ronnie Huges.
Available at all book leading book stores in Barbados.

Henry Fraser Treasures Of Barbados Book CoverTreasures of Barbados
Written by Sir George Alleyne and edited by Henry Fraser.
Available at the UWI Bookshop the publishers.

Henry Fraser Chattle House Book CoverBarbados Chattel Houses
Written by Henry Fraser and Bob Kiss.
Available at all leading book stores.

Henry Fraser A-Z Barbados Book CoverA-Z of Barbados Heritage
Written by Sean Carrington, Henry Fraser, John Gilmore and Addington Forde.
Available at Days Bookstore Barbados and

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