We owe a lot to our past


As we exit Black History Month and dive head first into the 150th birthday of Mount Olive, let’s continue to recognize those responsible for what we have today.

The first known member of the Winn family, Adam, originally lived in Duplin County and is believed to be a descendant of the Waccamaw Indians. Upon his arrival in Wayne County, he bought several tracts of land including where our town is located. The Winn family sold land from 1836-1840 for the building of the Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad — later known as the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad.

The town of Mount Olive was incorporated on March 1, 1870.

Throughout the years, members of the Winn family served in numerous capacities — commissioner, postmaster, justice of the peace and pastor… just to name a few.

In 1880, the first school for black people was established in Mount Olive with E.E. Smith as the first principal. Susie and Cora Winn served on the faculty during the early years. In 1901, the school was called the Coley School with M.D. Coley as headmaster. Just 11 years later, the school was renamed to Mount Olive Industrial High School.

Accredited in 1925, the school underwent another name change to Carver High School, which was completely destroyed by fire in 1939. The community rebuilt the school and the class of 1941 was the first group to graduate in the new building. Named after the great scientist, George Washington Carver, the school was consolidated with Southern Wayne High School in the 1970s.

This research, in a condensed version, made me think of items of an every day sort that we either observe or use.

How about the ironing board?

Born a slave, Sarah Boone became one of the first African-American women in U.S. history to receive a patent after she expanded upon the original ironing board - a horizontal wooden block patented in 1858. Boone’s concept featured a narrower and curved design, which made it easier to iron garments, particularly women’s clothing.

Travel down Breazeale Avenue in town and what do you see at nearly every intersection?

A son of a slave with only an elementary education, Garrett Morgan, invented the three-light traffic system. His improvement upon the two-light traffic stop came after he witnessed a car accident. Morgan realized the traffic light needed a “yield” component (yellow light) to warn drivers of oncoming traffic.

Morgan submitted his patent in 1923 and had it approved one year later.

In multi-floor buildings we use an elevator, but it used to be a risky proposition until the late 1800s. Many folks tumbled down elevator shafts because they failed to manually shut both the shaft and elevator doors before riding.

Alexander Miles lost his daughter in that very manner and invented the automatic elevator doors in 1887.

I look up toward my ceiling as I begin to write the last few sentences of this column.

We all know that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb.

The son of runaway slaves, Lewis Lattimer invented the carbon light bulb filament in 1881 to help create longer-lasting light bulbs. He served in the military for the Union during the Civil War and later co-invented an improved bathroom for railroad trains.

And there are more products ­— too many to mention here — that have sprung from the minds of black inventors.

Amazing, is it not?


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