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Meet Elijah McCoy: The father of Lubrication, the Real McCoy

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February is Black History Month. And what better way to celebrate than to lift from obscurity African Americans who played crucial roles in this country’s scientific, cultural and industrial progress. Their achievements saved thousands of lives, made the lives of many Americans easier and in some instances changed the course of history. And yet, they are largely forgotten by the world they helped to change for the better. In this series, we will highlight some of these under-appreciated and forgotten men and women.

Most people may not know his name, but many know the phrase: it’s the real McCoy. That’s because the quality of Elijah McCoy’s inventions created a level of distinction that continues to bear his name.

McCoy was born on May 2, 1844 in Colchester, Ontario in Canada to slaves who escaped from Kentucky through the underground railroad (the movement began by abolitionists and others to help move escaped slaves from the South into Canada).

Some years later, the family moved back to the United States and settled in Ypsilanti, Michigan where McCoy attended grammar school.  Young McCoy was always tinkering with any machine he could lay his hands on, often taking them apart and putting them back together again. Seeing his aptitude, His parents arranged for the then 15-year-old to travel to Edinburgh, Scotland to work as an apprentice in mechanical engineering, according to Biography.com.

He later returned to Michigan as a certified mechanical engineer. But no company wanted to hire a black man, especially to such a highly-skilled position.

“Skilled professional positions were not available for African Americans at the time, regardless of their training or background,” according to Biography.com. Instead, he became a fireman and oiler on the Michigan Central Railroad.

As a fireman, McCoy shoveled coal onto fires which would help to produce steam that powered the locomotive. As an oilman, he was responsible for ensuring that the train was well lubricated.

At that time, the trains had to be stopped every few miles and an oilman would go around oiling the engine, wheels and other moving parts, according to Louis Haber, author of Black Pioneers of Science and Invention. That method was repeated in factories where the machines would have to be shut down in order to be oiled or lubricated to prevent friction or burn out from the parts coming together.

McCoy thought frequently shutting down the machines was a waste of time and money. He built a crude machine shop and there worked on developing a way to lubricate the machines while they were in operation.

“His idea was to provide, in the making of the machine, for certain canals with connecting devices to distribute the oil throughout the machinery and whenever needed, rather than have to figure out the need from memory – in other words, to make lubrication automatic,” Haber said. “He called his device the ‘lubricating cup.’”

In July, 1872, McCoy patented his first invention of an automatic lubricator that distributed oil evenly over the engine’s moving parts, particularly for steam engine and steam cylinder.  The lubricating cup allowed trains to run continuously for long periods of time without pausing for maintenance. A year later, he improved on his invention of a steam cylinder lubricator by providing additional devices so that the lubricator mainly oiled when the steam was exhausted, which was when the oil was needed the most, Haber said.

Factories everywhere were quick to adopt McCoy’s lubricating cups.

By 1892, McCoy had moved on to solving the problem of lubricating railroad locomotives. He was able to establish a perfect equalization of the steam pressure going in and out of the engine, resulting in proper lubrication, Haber said.

His system was soon be used on all railroads in the West and on steamers on the Great Lakes, Haber said. In 1920, McCoy applied his lubrication system to the air brakes on locomotives and other vehicles that used air brakes.

Although McCoy’s achievements were recognized in his own time, his name did not appear on the majority of the products that he devised, according to Biography.com.

He didn’t have the capital needed to manufacture his lubricators in large numbers, so he typically assigned his patent rights to his employers or sold them to investors, according to the online site. But that soon changed.

In 1916, McCoy created the graphite lubricator that oiled new superheater trains and devices, according to Blackinventor.com. Four years later he started the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company where he improved and sold the graphite lubricator as well as other inventions, which came to him out of necessity. He developed and patented a portable ironing board after his wife, Mary Eleanor Delaney, expressed a need for an easier way of ironing clothes. When he desired an easier and faster way of watering his lawn, he created and patented the lawn sprinkler, according to the online site.

Over the years, McCoy received 57 patents, most of which were in the field of automatic lubrication. His lubrication systems came into general use on industrial and locomotive machinery throughout the United States and elsewhere in the world. After a while, no piece of heavy-duty equipment was considered complete unless it had the “McCoy system.”

 

In 1922, Elijah and his wife got into an automobile accident. His wife died, while McCoy was critical injured and developed heart problems, according to Blackinventor.com. He never really recovered and died in the Eloise Infirmary in Detroit on Oct.10, 1929. He was 85.

Over the years, other inventors attempted to sell their own versions of his invention, the lubricating cup, but most companies wanted the authentic device, requesting “the Real McCoy.”

“People inspecting a new machinery would make sure that it had automatic lubrication by asking, “Is it the real McCoy?” Haber said. Today the expression, “It’s the real McCoy,” is used to indicate perfection, he said.

Black History

California Is the First State to Create A Public Alert for Missing Black Youth

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It’s been 21 years since Cleashandria Hall disappeared from Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Her mother Laurell Hall says she dropped her 18-year-old daughter off at her after-school job and never saw her again. For years, Hall and her family have kept their loved ones name in the media by hosting vigils and events that remind the public of their steadfast hope for answers.

But the attention is unusual. More often than not, experts say Black people who go missing do not receive the coverage as whites.

In October 2023, the state of California passed legislation that alerts the public to the disappearance of young people. It’s called the Ebony Alert, and it hopes to change the narrative about Black youth who are missing but don’t receive the same media coverage as white youth.

“We feel it’s well beyond time that we dedicate something specifically to help bring these young women and girls back home because they’re missed and loved just as much as their counterparts are,” State Senator Steven Bradford said in an interview with NBC News.

The recent docuseries about a California woman who faked her disappearance garnered 3.6 million viewers on Hulu, making it the most popular docuseries ever on the streaming service– a distinction that adds more credibility to the ongoing conversation about the disparities in media coverage and public attention when Black Americans are missing.

 Sherri Papini grabbed the spotlight in 2016 as authorities searched for her before she reappeared and years later admitted the hoax. The popularity of the docuseries has reignited the dismay Black families experience when their loved ones are missing.

According to the Black and Missing Foundation, Black Americans make up 40% of missing Americans but only 13% of the population.  

Foundation Founder Natalie Wilson said, “There’s a need for an Ebony Alert because people of color are disappearing at an alarming rate, and typically their cases are under the radar when it comes to media coverage and getting law enforcement resources.”

The Ebony Alert is activated when local authorities request it because a Black youth is missing, and there is concern the youth has been targeted for trafficking, or foul play is suspected. The Ebony Alert uses electronic highway signs and encouraged radio, TV, and social media and other systems to spread information about the missing persons’ alert.

In 2022, California began the Feather Alert which publicizes the disappearance of Indigenous people.

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First Black Manhattan District Attorney Wins Historic Felony Convictions Against  Donald Trump

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Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg led the investigation that resulted in the first felony conviction of a former United States President, Donald Trump. Bragg’s case centered on the hush money paid to Stormy Daniels, a porn actor who said she and Trump had sex in 2006. The trial involved charges that Trump falsified business records to cover up the payment to Daniels.

 “While this defendant may be unlike any other in American history, we arrived at this trial and ultimately today at this verdict in the same manner as every other case that comes to the courtroom doors,” Bragg said during a press conference after the jury’s verdict was announced. “By following the facts and the law and doing so without fear or favor.”

Trump and his Republican supporters have accused Bragg of “weaponizing” the judicial system.

“This was a disgrace,” Trump said. “This was a rigged trial by a conflicted judge who was corrupt as a rigged trial, a disgrace. The real verdict is going to be November 5th by the people. And they know what happened here and everybody knows what happened here.”

Who is Alvin Bragg

In 2021, Bragg became the first African American elected as the District Attorney for New York County covering Manhattan. He graduated from Harvard Law School and has served as an Assistant Attorney General at the New York State Attorney General’s Office and as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Bragg is a former member of the Board of Directors of the New York Urban League and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and a Sunday School teacher at his church.

Political Science professor, Sekou Franklin, said, “Bragg took a big risk bringing the case against former President Donald Trump. Undoubtedly, this risk is both personal and political. Despite this challenge, his willingness to prosecute Trump took great courage.”

Trump’s litany of indictments started when he left office in 2020 after losing the White House to President Joe Biden. Charges of Trump’s attempts to overthrow the 2020 election continue to generate investigations and outrage. African American prosecutors have led three of the most significant cases.

In Georgia, Trump was indicted, along with 18 of his allies, for attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis brought the charges; however, the case became overshadowed by controversy when Willis was accused of hiring Nathan Wade as the special prosecutor because she was in a romantic relationship with him. Judge Scott McAfee declined to disqualify Willis, a decision Trump and his team are challenging.

Earlier this year New York State Attorney General Letitia James handed Trump a defeat after a New York judge ordered him and his business trust to pay $453.5 million in penalties and interest as part of his civil fraud case. The judge ruled that Trump fraudulently inflated the value of his real estate holdings when applying for loans.

But the latest convictions on 34 felony counts against the former President known for his boundary-breaking is historic.

“Alvin Bragg represents the new wave of prosecutors who have strong ties to public impact and community lawyering,” said Franklin, a professor at Middle Tennessee State. “Many of these prosecutors were elected as a result of protests that targeted racialized violence by law enforcement.”

Trump has described James, Willis and Bragg as “racists” – a thinly veiled attempt to tap into a vein of ingrained racism in the nation. The Republican Party lamented the convictions, decrying the trial as a political attack and a “shameful” day in American history.

Democrats view the convictions as an opportunity to sharpen their arguments that Trump is unfit to lead the nation domestically or represent America globally.

Trump faces up to four years in prison. His sentencing is set for July 11 – days before the start of the Republican National Convention.

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Senator Boozman Delivers $15 Million to Construct New UAPB Nursing Building

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Pine Bluff, AR —The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) nursing program will receive a $15 million investment to construct a new academic building as part of a major legislative package championed by U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR).

“I’m proud to deliver investments to Arkansas that support growth and development as well as improve the quality of life for Natural State residents. Enhancing UAPB’s ability to provide medical training opportunities will benefit students and help address the shortage of health care providers in communities across our state. I look forward to seeing how a new, technologically advanced facility will serve nursing students and faculty who will, in turn, serve the needs of Arkansas for years to come,” Boozman said.

According to UAPB Chancellor Laurence B. Alexander, the funding represents a major investment that will improve our educational facilities and equipment for preparing future generations of nurses and addressing the health care workforce needs.

“On behalf of UAPB, I would like to express our gratitude to Senator Boozman for his commitment to our institution and to this region of the state,” Dr. Alexander said. “This facility will be a game changer for UAPB. The funds will enable us to build a technologically advanced nursing school facility that will strengthen the university’s role in addressing the nursing shortage and developing and growing the health care workforce across our state.”

UAPB offers two program tracks: a pre-licensure Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree and a registered nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (R.N. to BSN) program for nurses who are already licensed. UAPB Provost & Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Dr. Andrea Stewart, added that “this investment to construct a new technologically advanced facility will enhance the foundation of the nursing pre-licensure baccalaureate program. Additionally, plans are underway to develop and establish new quality health care programs.”

Dr. Brenda Jacobs, Chair of the UAPB Nursing Department, applauded the funding as a key milestone in her plans to strengthen the program. According to Jacobs, the new funding allows UAPB to build upon prior successes, “There is no doubt that this will allow us to significantly enhance our program and recruit a new generation of talented nursing students.”

UAPB Nursing Students in Simulation Lab

The legislation was signed into law on March 23, 2024, as part of funding for health care resources and education, national security, government oversight, and community investments secured for projects across Arkansas. Boozman, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Ranking Member of the Senate Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, secured more than $95 million for Arkansas Health Care Resources and Education in the Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations bills.

Alexander said an investment of this magnitude will significantly aid UAPB’s goal of elevating nursing to one of its signature programs. “The great impact of this investment will be felt by the state for many years to come. Such a facility will attract quality students, faculty, and staff and enhance the overall quality of the student experience in the new learning environment,” Alexander said.

The Congressional funds follow a major gift of $1.1 million that the nursing program received in late 2022 from CHI St. Vincent,  a leading regional health network serving Central and Southwest Arkansas, for faculty development, student support, and a variety of other program enhancements. UAPB Vice Chancellor for Institutional Advancement George Cotton pointed to the future as he assessed the award’s impact. “This level of funding allows UAPB to build a strong case for increased funding in Nursing and STEM. In many ways, this award serves as a catalyst that will attract even greater resources to this great institution.” Cotton stated.

About the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) is an 1890 Land-Grant HBCU with a diverse student population, competitive degree offerings and stellar faculty. For 150 years, UAPB has worked to create an environment that emphasizes learning, growth and productivity while affording a basic need to its students: a chance to advance. UAPB offers certificate and associate degree programs, more than 50 undergraduate and master’s degree programs and a doctoral program in Aquaculture/Fisheries. Students are active in more than 100 organizations, including an internationally renowned Vesper Choir, Marching Musical Machine of the Mid-South Band, Concert Bands, Wind Symphony and an accomplished athletics program.

Contact Information:

Mary Hester-Clifton

Director of Communications | University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff

870.575.4602

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