Sometimes, I start writing entries on this blog with no real plan for where it might take me. Today is one of those days, but it’s been a fascinating journey, and I hope you’ll enjoy it too…
Traffic lights as we know them are 95 years old today. The patent for three position traffic lights was awarded in the US to Garrett Morgan on this day in 1923. The first traffic light system had been installed in London in 1868, but it was Morgan who came up with the idea of adding the amber light to better control traffic at busy junctions. Morgan sold the rights to his invention to General Electric for £40,000 (equivalent to about £500,000 in today’s money).
Morgan’s is a fascinating life, straight out of the American Dream handbook, made all the more remarkable by the fact that he was the black son of former slaves. Born in Kentucky in the final quarter of the 19th Century, he moved north to Ohio searching for work and took jobs as a handyman and then sewing machine repairman, before opening his own repair shop. Such was his success, that he expanded into clothing stores and then a newspaper – the Cleveland Call and Post, one of the most prominent of the black newspapers in the US.
The Call and Post featured prominently the Scottsboro case in 1931, which led to Supreme Court rulings on the conduct of criminal trials that remain in place to this day. The case was highly racially charged, involving an allegation of rape by two white women against 9 African American teenagers in the state of Alabama. The case is now widely cited as an example of a dreadful miscarriage of justice.
The Call and Post was facing bankruptcy and dissolution in 1998, but was saved from the brink by boxing promoter Don King. King is one of the most flamboyant and controversial characters in world boxing. He promoted the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manila – two of the three bouts contested by Mohammed Ali and Joe Frazier; and more recently, he was responsible for charting the meteoric rise of Mike Tyson, before an equally dramatic decline in his protogees fortunes. King himself has twice been charged with manslaughter – on the first occasion he was acquitted when the court accepted that he was seeking to prevent the victim from robbing him. The second case was much less justifiable, and King spent nearly four years in prison as a result.
More recently, King landed himself in hot water when he used the n word while introducing Donald Trump at a presidential campaign event at a Black church in Cleveland in 2016. It’s perhaps unfortunate that there isn’t a system of warning lights for Republican speakers at political rallies. It would save them all a lot of unnecessary trouble!