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Lady Sala Shabazz, 50; Created Black History Books for Kids

April 12, 2002|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lady Sala S. Shabazz, who created children's books and founded the mobile miniature International Black Inventions Museum to teach youngsters about black history, has died. She was 50.

Shabazz died March 28 of liver and kidney failure at Century City Hospital, said a friend, Dr. Patricia E. Bath.

Born Valerie Robinson in Harlem, Shabazz grew up reading--and unhappy with the way books depicted African Americans.

She moved to Los Angeles and became a legal secretary, but was determined to do something to teach blacks about their own past achievements.

In 1977, the young woman officially changed her name to Lady Sala (which means "gentle and caring" in Swahili) Shabazz (meaning "from the people of the tribe who preserve").

"Now that my name has special meaning," she once told an interviewer, "I think I have to live up to it."

Shabazz established an independent book publishing company, Sala Enterprises, and began designing and illustrating educational coloring books for children. "The Kwanzaa Coloring Book," "The Cinco de Mayo Coloring Book," "Flags of the African People," "Kwanzaa--An African Celebration" and "The Best of Little Known Black History Facts" rolled off her presses.

The little fact book has been featured during Black History Month in recent years on the nationally syndicated Tom Joyner radio show. McDonald's Corp. also financed publication of parts of the book in a nationally distributed brochure.

About 15 years ago, Shabazz also decided to focus on the historic scientific and consumer inventions by blacks over the past two centuries. Billing her newest creation the International Black Inventions Museum, she started with a handful of objects, which she displayed for a Yorba Linda children's group.

After receiving a sizable donation from rap star Ice Cube in 1992, Shabazz began building her collection, adding scale models of inventions, biographical sketches of inventors and copies of patent documents verified with the U.S. government.

She took the show on the road, and by the time of her death had displayed selections from her 3,000 items more than 1,000 times before 12 million people in some 180 cities, 38 states and a few other countries. She also established a permanent display in Ghana.

Shabazz's itinerant museum, particularly popular during Black History Month each February, helped teach children about the blacks who invented such familiar items as the rotary lawnmower, traffic signal, refrigerator, fire extinguisher, roller coaster and gas mask.

"I felt there was a need to create a display that would raise the self-esteem of young black children," Shabazz told the Allentown, Pa., Morning Call last year.

"Making the museum a mobile traveling exhibition makes it more available to more people," she said.

She said several children who saw the exhibit told her it inspired them to become inventors.

No information was available on survivors.

Shabazz will be honored May 4 in a program at the Tom Bradley International Center on the UCLA campus.

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