1916—The Black inventor of America’s first gas mask, Garrett T. Morgan, made national headlines on this day when he and a team of volunteers used his invention to rescue 32 workers trapped in a gas filled tunnel 250 under Lake Erie. Morgan called his device “the Morgan safety hood and smoke protector.” But it has become known simply as the gas mask. Morgan also invented America’s first traffic light. He was born in 1877, did most of his inventing in Cleveland, Ohio, and died in 1963.
1972—Faced with possible exposure by the media, the federal government (specifically the U.S. Public Health Service) finally acknowledges its involvement in the horrific and immoral Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. During the experiment, 399 Black men (mostly poor sharecroppers from Alabama) were led to believe they were being treated for syphilis while the doctors and nurses involved (some of them African-American) were actually fooling the men with fake medicines in order to discover the long-term effects of syphilis on the human body. The “experiment” lasted from 1932 to the time it was exposed in 1972. Finally, on May 16 1997, President Clinton issued an official apology to the eight surviving members of the experiment saying, “The United States government did something that was wrong—deeply, profoundly, morally wrong…and clearly racist.”