Lonnie Johnson is not a household name, but one of his inventions is known just about everywhere. Johnson, who worked for NASA helping to develop the Galileo Jupiter probe and Mars Observer (in addition to several other notable scientific endeavors), invented the Super Soaker water gun.
Johnson was one of six African American inventors, doctors and trailblazers that members of the NAACP Rhein-Neckar Branch taught Wiesbaden Middle School students about during a series of skits Feb. 29, the last day of Black History Month.
Perhaps because most of the students have had firsthand experience with a Super Soaker, Johnson’s name was the one students mentioned most frequently after the event. Other names the skits included were Granville Woods, who invented a device that allowed telegraph stations to send voice messages, Bessie Coleman, the first African American to receive an international pilot’s license, Valerie L. Thomas, a NASA scientist who helped develop Google Maps and Google Earth, and Dr. Patricia Bath, a prominent ophthalmologist who is the first African American woman to receive a patent for a medical purpose.
“I thought it was interesting and I heard an awful lot of things that I didn’t know before,” said Emilia Salvatore, 11, and in the sixth grade. “I didn’t know who invented the Super Soaker before this.”
Zachary Young, 11, and in the sixth grade, said he was surprised to find out the identity of the Super Soaker inventor. He also didn’t know that a member of Thomas Edison’s team, Louis Lattimer, was African American, he said.
Shana Graves, also 11 and in the sixth grade, said she was impressed because the skits packed a lot of useful information into a short time period.
Jess Hamilton, 12, and in the sixth grade, said he thought the program was very useful. “They gave a lot of information I didn’t know about black people and their inventions. They invented a lot of useful things,” he said.
James Harris, president of the Rhein-Neckar Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said this was the first time the branch had gone into a school to make a presentation. “We’re appreciative of the invitation,” Harris said. “We want to do it again in the future.”
Members of the military and civilians formed the Rhein-Neckar Branch of the NAACP 20 years ago in Heidelberg, and it is still based there, but since the base there is closing, the branch plans to move to Wiesbaden, Harris said.
Anyone interested in joining or finding out more about the organization can contact the branch at firstname.lastname@example.org.