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Today in Black History, 11/23/2014

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• November 23, 1860 Edward Austin Johnson, educator, lawyer, politician and author, was born enslaved in Raleigh, North Carolina. Johnson was emancipated at the end of the Civil War and earned his bachelor’s degree from Atlanta University in 1883. After graduating, he served as a principal first in the Atlanta school system and then in the Raleigh school system. In 1891, he earned his Bachelor of Laws degree from Shaw University and joined their faculty, rising to dean of the law department by 1907. Johnson served as an elected alderman in Raleigh from 1897 to 1899 and was appointed clerk of the federal district attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. He was also a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1892, 1896, and 1900. In 1900, he was one of the founders of the National Negro Business League. In 1907, Johnson moved to Harlem, New York and in 1917 became the first African American elected to the New York state legislature where he served one term. Johnson authored several books, including “A School History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1890” (1890) and “History of the Negro Soldier in the Spanish American War and Other Items of Interest” (1899). Johnson died July 25, 1944. A North Carolina Historical Marker honoring Johnson was unveiled in Raleigh in 1982.

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Today in Black History, 11/22/2014

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• November 22, 1871 Oscar James Dunn, the first elected Black lieutenant governor of a U. S. state, died. Dunn was born around 1826 in New Orleans, Louisiana. During the 1850s he became a member of the Prince Hall Masons, eventually serving as Grand Master of one of the lodges. This provided him a power base that would be the foundation of his political career. Dunn was also a businessman, running an employment agency that assisted in finding jobs for freedmen and serving as secretary of the advisory committee of the Freedmen’s Savings & Trust Company. In 1866, he organized the People’s Bakery. Dunn actively promoted and supported the Universal Suffrage Movement, advocated land ownership for all Black people, free public education for all Black children, and equal protection under the law. In 1868, Dunn was elected Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana, a position he held until his death. During his time in office, he was president pro tempore of the State Senate and president of the Metropolitan Police, with both positions commanding million dollar budgets. Dunn also served on the board of trustees and examining committee of Straight University (now Dillard University). Dunn’s funeral is reported to have been one of the largest ever in New Orleans with 50,000 people lining the streets for his funeral procession and newspapers across the nation reporting the event.

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Today in Black History, 11/21/2014

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• November 21, 1865 Shaw University was founded in Raleigh, North Carolina by the American Baptist Home Mission Society as the first college for African Americans in the South. The university was named for Elijah Shaw, benefactor of Shaw Hall, the first building constructed for the college. The Leonard Medical School was established in 1881 as the first four year medical school in the South to train Black doctors and pharmacists and operated until 1918. Today, the college has a faculty of 207 with 2,700 undergraduate and 100 postgraduate students. Notable alumni include Ella Baker, James E. Cheek, Willie E. Gary, and Shirley Caesar. “Shaw’s Universe: A Monument to Educational Innovation” was published in 1973.

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Today in Black History, 11/20/2014

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• November 20, 1695 Zumbi, also known as Zumbi dos Palmares, leader of the Quilombo dos Palmares in Brazil was captured and beheaded by the Portuguese. Zumbi was born free in Palmares in 1655 but was captured by the Portuguese when he was six years old. Despite efforts to pacify him, Zumbi escaped when he was 15 and returned to his birthplace. He became known for his physical prowess and cunning in battle and was a respected military strategist by the time he was in his early twenties. In 1678, Zumbi became the leader of Palmares and for the next seventeen years led the fight for the independence of Palmares, a self-sustaining republic of Maroons who had escaped from the Portuguese settlements in Brazil. Today, Zambi is honored as a hero, freedom fighter, and symbol of freedom in Brazil. A bust of Zumbi sits in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, with a plaque that reads “Zumbi dos Palmares, the leader of all races.” Also, November 20 is celebrated as a day of Black consciousness in Brazil. Zambi dos Palmares International Airport in Macelo, Brazil is named in his honor.

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Today in Black History, 11/19/2014

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• November 19, 1797 Sojourner Truth, hall of fame abolitionist and women’s rights activist, was born Isabella Baumfree enslaved in Swartekill, New York. When Truth was nine, she was sold with a flock of sheep for $100. In 1826, Truth escaped to freedom and in 1843 changed her name and began traveling and preaching about abolition. Her memoir, “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave,” was published in 1850. Truth attended the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention and delivered her famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman” May 29, 1851. During the Civil War, Truth helped recruit Black soldiers for the Union Army and later met with Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. Truth died November 26, 1883. She was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1981, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor in 1986, and she became the first Black woman to be honored with a bust in the United States Capitol April 28, 2009. A number of biographies have been published about Truth, including “Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend” (1993) and “Glorying in Tribulation: The Lifework of Sojourner Truth” (1994). Truth’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

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Today in Black History, 11/18/2014

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• November 18, 1900 Howard Thurman, author, theologian, educator and civil rights leader, was born in Daytona Beach, Florida. Thurman earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Morehouse College in 1923 and his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Colgate Rochester Theological Seminary in 1926. In 1929, he earned his Ph.D. from Haverford College. Thurman was selected as dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University in 1932 and served until 1944 when he left to help establish the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, the first racially integrated, intercultural church in the United States. In 1953, he became the first Black dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University where he served until 1965. A prolific author, Thurman wrote 20 books, including “Jesus and the Disinherited” (1949) which greatly influenced Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1953, Life Magazine rated Thurman among the 12 most important religious leaders in the United States and Ebony Magazine called him one of the 50 most important figures in African American history. Thurman died April 10, 1981. That same year, “With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman” was published.

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Today in Black History, 11/17/2014

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• November 17, 1834 Nancy Green, storyteller, cook and one of the first African Americans hired to promote a corporate trademark, was born enslaved in Montgomery County, Kentucky. In 1890, Green was hired to represent Aunt Jemima for a ready-mixed, self-rising flour. Green was introduced as Aunt Jemima in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois where she operated a pancake cooking display. Her personality and cooking ability made the display so successful that the company received over 50,000 orders and she received a medal and certificate from the Expo officials. After the Expo, Green was given a lifetime contract to adopt the Aunt Jemima moniker and promote the pancake mix. She traveled on promotional tours all over the country and gained the financial freedom to become an activist and engage in antipoverty programs. Green died September 23, 1923. In 1998, “Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima” was published.

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Today in Black History, 11/16/2014

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• November 16, 1873 William Christopher “W. C.” Handy, hall of fame blues composer and musician, was born in Florence, Alabama. In 1892, Handy received a teaching degree from Huntsville Teachers Agricultural and Mechanical College. At 23, he became band master of Mahara’s Colored Minstrels and over the next three years toured throughout the United States and Cuba. From 1900 to 1902, he taught music at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College for Negroes (now Alabama A&M University). He returned to leading bands in 1903 and touring with the Knights of Pythias which he led for the next six years. The 1912 publication of his “Memphis Blues” sheet music was credited as the inspiration for the foxtrot dance step and many consider it the first blues song. By 1917, Handy had also published “Beale Street Blues” and “St Louis Blues.” Bessie Smith’s recording of “St Louis Blues” with Louis Armstrong is considered one of the finest recordings of the 1920s. In 1926, Handy authored “Blues: An Anthology – Complete Words and Music of 53 Great Songs” which was the first work to record, analyze, and describe the blues as an integral part of the history of the United States. He wrote four other books, including his autobiography “Father of the Blues: An Autobiography.” Handy died March 28, 1958. That same year, a movie about his life titled “St Louis Blues” was released. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1969, he was posthumously inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1983, awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993, and inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2010. Streets in New York, Tennessee, and Alabama are named in his honor and the W. C. Handy Music Festival is held annually in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

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Today in Black History, 11/15/2014

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• November 15, 1825 Sarah Jane Woodson Early, educator, activist, and the first African American female college instructor, was born in Chillicothe, Ohio. Early graduated from Oberlin College in 1856, one of the first African American female college graduates. She was hired by Wilberforce University in 1858 to teach English and Latin and to serve as lady principal and matron. In 1868, Early began teaching at a school for Black girls in North Carolina. Early taught school for nearly four decades, believing that education was critical for the advancement of her race. She also served as principal of large schools in four cities. In 1888, she was elected national superintendent of the Colored Division of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and during her tenure gave more than one hundred speeches to groups in a five state region. At the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, Illinois, she was named “Representative Woman of the Year.” Early published “The Life and Labors of Rev. J. W. Early, One of the Pioneers of African Methodism in the West and South,” a biography of her husband, in 1894. Early died August 15, 1907.

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Today in Black History, 11/14/2014

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• November 14, 1856 John Edward Bush, co-founder of the Mosaic Templars of America, was born enslaved in Moscow, Tennessee. Bush and his family were freed after the Civil War and moved to Little Rock, Arkansas. He graduated with honors from Capitol Hill City School in 1876 and served as its principal for two years immediately following graduation. In 1883, he co-founded MTA, an African American fraternal organization which by 1930 had grown to international scope, spanning 26 states and 6 foreign countries. It was one of the largest and most successful Black owned business enterprises in the world and Bush was acknowledged as one of the wealthiest Black men in Arkansas. In 1898, President William McKinley appointed Bush the receiver of the United States Land Office in Little Rock and he was subsequently reappointed four additional terms by Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. and William H. Taft. Bush died December 11, 1916.

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Today in Black History, 11/13/2014

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• November 13, 1837 James Thomas Rapier, lawyer and politician, was born in Florence, Alabama. In 1856, Rapier’s father sent him to Canada to further his education. There, he attended Montreal College where he studied law. He also attended the University of Glasgow and after returning to the United States Franklin College where he earned a teaching certificate in 1863. In 1866, Rapier returned to Alabama and was elected a delegate to the 1867 Republican state constitutional convention. Rapier’s political involvement was unacceptable to some White people and in 1868 the Ku Klux Klan drove him from his home and forced him to remain in seclusion for a year. In 1870, he returned to public life and became the first African American to run for statewide office in Alabama, unsuccessfully running for secretary of state. He also became involved in the Black labor movement and in 1870 was elected vice president of the National Negro Labor Union. In 1872, Rapier was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives where he pushed through a bill to make Montgomery, Alabama a port of delivery which was a significant boost to the city’s economy. He also supported the passage of the 1875 Civil Rights Act. Rapier lost his bid for re-election in 1874 and became a collector for the Internal Revenue Service. By 1879, he had become disenchanted with opportunities for African Americans in the South. He purchased land in Kansas and became a leading advocate for Black emigration to the West. Rapier died May 31, 1883. “James T. Rapier and Reconstruction” was published in 1978.

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Today in Black History, 11/12/2014

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• November 12, 1875 Egbert Austin “Bert” Williams, hall of fame comedian and the pre-eminent Black entertainer of his era, was born in Nassau, Bahamas. Williams moved to San Francisco, California to study civil engineering but instead joined a minstrel show. In 1893, he formed the team of Williams and Walker with his partner George Walker and they performed song and dance numbers, comic dialogues, and skits. In 1896, they headlined the Koster and Bial’s vaudeville house for 36 weeks and popularized the cakewalk dance. Williams and Walker appeared in a succession of hit shows, including “Sons of Ham” (1900), “In Dahomey” (1902), which became the first Black musical to open on Broadway February 18, 1903, and “Abyssinia” (1906). Williams composed and recorded many songs, including “Nobody” which sold between 100,000 and 150,000 copies, a phenomenal total for the era. In 1909, Walker was forced to leave their partnership due to ill health and in 1910 Williams joined the Ziegfeld Follies as the featured performer amid an otherwise all White show. By 1920, when 10,000 sales was considered a successful release, Williams had four songs that shipped between 180,000 and 250,000 copies and was one of the three most highly paid recording artists in the world. Williams died March 4, 1922. On November 18, 1944, the U. S. Liberty ship SS Bert Williams was launched in his honor and in 1996 he was posthumously inducted into the International Clown Hall of Fame. The many books about Williams include “Nobody: The Story of Bert Williams” (1970), “The Last Darky: Bert Williams, Black-on-Black Minstrelsy, and the African Diaspora” (2005), and “Introducing Bert Williams: Burnt Cork, Broadway, and the Story of America’s First Black Star” (2008). Williams’ name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

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Today in Black History, 11/11/2014

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• November 11, 1831 Nathaniel “Nat” Turner, rebellion leader, was executed by hanging in Jerusalem, Virginia after initiating a rebellion of enslaved and free Black people. Turner was born enslaved October 2, 1800 in Southampton County, Virginia. He learned to read and write at a young age and was deeply religious. By early 1828, he was convinced that he “was ordained for some great purpose in the hands of the Almighty” and that God had given him the task of “slaying my enemies with their own weapons.” On August 13, 1831, there was a solar eclipse and Turner took that as his signal. On August 21, he began the rebellion with a few trusted enslaved Black men that grew into more than 50 enslaved and free Black men. The rebels traveled from house to house, freeing enslaved people and killing their White owners. The rebellion was suppressed within 48 hours with approximately 55 White men, women, and children killed. Turner was captured October 30 and was convicted and sentenced to death November 5. The state executed 56 other Black men suspected of being involved in the uprising and another 200 Black people, most of whom had nothing to do with the uprising, were beaten, tortured, and murdered by angry White mobs. Also, the Virginia General Assembly passed new laws making it unlawful to teach enslaved or free Black and Mulatto people to read or write and restricting Black people from holding religious meetings without the presence of a licensed White minister. Numerous books have been written about the rebellion, including “Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion” (1966), “The Confessions of Nat Turner” (1993), and “The Rebellious Slave: Nat Turner in American Memory” (2004). Turner’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

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Today in Black History, 11/10/2014

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• November 10, 1828 Lott Cary, the first American Baptist missionary to Africa, died. Cary was born enslaved in 1780 in Charles City County, Virginia. As a young man, he learned to read from the bible and later attended a school for enslaved youth. Because of his education, diligence, and valuable work, Cary was rewarded by his owner with small tips from the money he earned. Cary was able to purchase his freedom and that of his two children for $850 in 1813. That same year, he became an official Baptist minister. In 1821, Cary led a missionary team to Liberia where they engaged in evangelism, education, and health care. He also established the first Baptist church in Liberia, the Providence Baptist Church in Monrovia which celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2001, and several schools. In August, 1828, Cary became acting Governor of Liberia. Cary Street and the Carytown shopping district in Richmond, Virginia are named in his honor and the Lott Cary House was added to the National Register of Historic Places July 30, 1980. The Lott Cary Foreign Mission Convention helps churches extend their Christian witness to the end of the earth. “Biography of Elder Lott Cary, Late Missionary to Africa” was published in 1837.

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Today in Black History, 11/9/2014

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• November 9, 1731 Benjamin Banneker, astronomer, surveyor and almanac author, was born in Ellicott’s Mills, Maryland. When Banneker was old enough to help on his parent’s farm, his formal education ended. In 1753, he carved a wooden clock that struck hourly, using a pocket watch as a model, and continued to work until his death. He began to study astronomy using borrowed books and equipment in 1788. In 1791, Banneker was hired to assist in the survey of what is now the District of Columbia, however due to illness he only worked on the project for three months. Banneker made astronomical calculations that predicted solar and lunar eclipses that he included in a series of almanacs from 1792 to 1797. The almanacs included the times for the rising and setting of the sun and moon and were commercially successful. Banneker expressed his views on slavery and racial equality, including a plea for justice for African Americans, in a 1791 letter to United States Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. Banneker died October 9, 1806. His biography, “The Life of Benjamin Banneker: The First African-American Man of Science,” was published in 1972. In 1977, a commemorative obelisk was erected near his grave site by the Maryland Bicentennial Commission and the State Commission on Afro-American History and Culture. In 1980, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor and in 1998 the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park located on the site of his former farm was dedicated. Banneker’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

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Today in Black History, 11/8/2014

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• November 8, 1865 Decatur Dorsey received the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration. Dorsey was born enslaved in 1836 in Howard County, Maryland. During the Civil War, he joined Company B of the 39th United States Colored Infantry Regiment in 1864 and was promoted to corporal less than two months after joining. On July 30, 1864, he took part in the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg, Virginia. During the battle, White Union soldiers were trapped in a crater by Confederate forces. Dorsey’s division was ordered in to reinforce the attack and rescue the trapped soldiers. His citation reads, “Planted the colors on the Confederate works in advance of his regiment, and when the regiment was driven back to the Union works he carried the colors there and bravely rallied the men.” During a second assault, the men of the 39th breached the Confederate works and engaged in hand to hand combat, capturing two hundred prisoners before withdrawing. Dorsey was subsequently promoted to first sergeant. After the war, Dorsey married and lived in Hoboken, New Jersey where he died July 10, 1891. A Decatur Dorsey Maryland Civil War Marker is located in Ellicott City, Maryland.

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Today in Black History, 11/7/2014

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• November 7, 1775 Lord Dunmore, the Royal Governor of Virginia, issued a proclamation promising freedom to all enslaved Black men who escaped and fought for the British. Thousands of Black people escaped to the British, serving as orderlies, laborers, scouts and guides. Despite Dunmore’s promise, the majority were not given their freedom. In January, 1776, George Washington lifted the ban on Black men enlisting in the Continental Army and at least 5,000 Black soldiers fought for the country in the American War of Independence.

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Today in Black History, 11/6/2014

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• November 6, 1746 Absalom Jones, abolitionist and clergyman, was born enslaved in Milford, Delaware. By 1785, Jones had bought his and his family’s freedom. Together with Richard Allen, Jones was one of the first African Americans licensed to preach by the Methodist Church. In 1787, they founded the Free African Society, conceived as a non-denominational mutual aid society to help newly freed enslaved people in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1792, Jones founded the African Church of Philadelphia which opened its doors July 17, 1794 as the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, the first Black church in Philadelphia. Jones was ordained as the first African American priest in the Episcopal Church in 1804. Jones died February 13, 1818. He is listed on the Episcopal calendar of saints and blessed under the date of his decease. The Absalom Jones Episcopal Center at the Atlanta University Center and the Absalom Jones Senior Center in Wilmington, Delaware are named in his honor.

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Today in Black History, 11/5/2014

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• November 5, 1889 Willis Richardson, playwright, was born in Wilmington, North Carolina but raised in Washington, D. C. In 1921, Richardson staged his first play, “The Deacon’s Awakening.” In 1923, he became the first African American playwright to have a non-musical production on Broadway with “The Chip Woman’s Fortune.” This was followed by “Mortgaged” (1923), “The Broken Banjo” (1925), and “Bootblack Lover” (1926). The last two plays were awarded the Amy Spingarn Prize for Art and Literature. Richardson edited the anthology “Plays and Pageants from the Life of the Negro” in 1930 and co-edited “Negro History in Thirteen Plays” in 1935. Richardson died November 7, 1977. He was posthumously awarded the Audience Development Committee (AUDELCO) prize for his contribution to American theater.

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Today in Black History, 11/4/2014

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• November 4, 1865 Wendell Phillips Dabney, newspaper editor and author, was born in Richmond, Virginia. In his senior year of high school, Dabney led a protest of the separation of Black and White students for graduation. The successful protest resulted in the first integrated graduation at the school. Dabney spent 1883 at Oberlin College where he was first violinist at the Oberlin Opera House and a member of the Cademian Literary Club. From 1884 to 1890, Dabney taught at a Virginia elementary school. In 1894, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio and in 1895 became Cincinnati’s first African American license clerk. From 1898 to 1923, he served as assistant, and then head paymaster in the Cincinnati Department of Treasury. In 1907, Dabney founded The Union newspaper whose motto was “For no people can become great without being united, for in union there is strength.” Dabney edited the paper from its founding until his death June 5, 1952. The paper was influential in shaping the political and social opinions of Cincinnati’s African American citizens. Dabney also served as the first president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Cincinnati chapter when it was established in 1915. He compiled and published “Cincinnati’s Colored Citizens” in 1926 and wrote “Maggie L. Walker: The Woman and Her Work” in 1927. In 1950, the National Convention of Negro Publishers honored Dabney as a pioneer and leader in African American journalism.

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