Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Friday, April 16, 2010

Woods: Freedom to Invent

Creation: Spring & Easter
You can't separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom. (Malcolm X)

Granville T. Woods was an extraordinary inventor. He was born to free Black American parents in 1856 and left school at ten years old. He then worked with his father on jobs that gave him a lifelong interest in improving the US railroad system. Some say he attended college as a young man, but no one can say exactly where or when.

Woods studied other workers and asked them to explain engineering concepts to him. He ultimately worked as an engineer, but he was allowed to rise just so far because of the color of his skin. He moved on to form his own company in 1884. His partner was a brother who was also an inventor.

One of Woods’ best known inventions was a telegraph station that allowed train stations to communicate with moving trains. Dispatchers could then prevent accidents because they would know exactly where to find each train.

Alexander Graham Bell’s company then bought the rights to this patent, thus giving Woods the income to be a full-time inventor. Thomas Edison then claimed to be the inventor of this new system, and he sued Woods. Edison lost one lawsuit, filed another, and lost again. He then tried to gain control over Woods by offering him a top opposition in his firm. Woods said no, preferring to keep his freedom and rely on his own resources.

Many of his sixty inventions focused on increasing efficiency and safety on the railroad. He sold some of his inventions to corporations such as General Electric and American Engineering.

Woods died in 1919.

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When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at