By RTA Director J.D. Ross.
Director Ross was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) in April 2008, representing Will County. He serves on the Audit Committee and is the Vice-Chair of Planning & Administration Committee.
Every February, our nation has a month-long celebration of Black History. As an African-American and a former Junior High and High School history teacher, I would much prefer that our history be told and celebrated in the normal course of teaching American History. And while some efforts are being made to do just that, these efforts are frequently uneven and in some cases, virtually non-existent. In the absence of the ideal, I am grateful that we have one month a year where the significant contributions of African-Americans are recognized and celebrated.
Over the course of this country’s history, African-Americans have made important contributions to education, public service, entrepreneurship, the sciences, mathematics, the arts, and athletics, to name a few. This statement is also true in regards to the development and improvement of our public transportation systems. Two generally recognized names are Rosa Parks and A. Phillip Randolph. They come to mind as trailblazers who worked to integrate the use of public transportation and insure that black railcar porters could unionize to obtain better wages and working conditions for themselves.
But, how many people know that there were black inventors who made major contributions to the rail industry in this country? One such inventor is Elijah McCoy, a Canadian whose parents fled slavery, who eventually became a United States citizen. He designed and patented a mechanism to automatically lubricate working machinery. This invention was especially useful in steam locomotives. There were many copycat duplications of his invention but purchasers often demanded his original, making his work one of the origins of an expression we have all likely used, “the real McCoy”.
Another African-American inventor is Granville T. Woods, an electrical genius. He had many inventions that focused on rail safety and efficiency. Woods designed the overhead system that provided electricity to trains and trolley cars, eliminating many trains driven by steam engines. Woods work became so well known that Thomas Edison asked him to come to work for his company, which he declined.
Now more than 100 years after McCoy and Woods made their contributions to public transportation, I am proud to be a Regional Transportation Authority board member. Working with our partners, the CTA, Metra and Pace, we strive to deliver cost-effective, safe, and clean transportation to our region. We do this in an environment that values respect and the diversity of our riders, our staff and our vendors. To do less, would be a disservice to our system and its customers, especially the tax payers of our region.