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Today in Black History, 12/21/2013

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• December 21, 1872 Robert Scott Duncanson, landscape painter, died. Duncanson was born in 1821 in Seneca County, New York and went to live with his father in Canada as a young boy. He returned to the United States in 1841 with a desire to be an artist and taught himself by painting portraits and copying prints. Duncanson traveled the world in pursuit of his art and in 1845 moved to Detroit, Michigan. In 1846, the Detroit Daily Advertiser praised Duncanson for his skill and color usage, adding “Mr. Duncanson deserves, and we trust will receive the patronage of all lovers of the fine arts.” With the onset of the Civil War, Duncanson exiled himself to Canada and the United Kingdom where his work was well received and the London Art Journal declared him a master of landscape painting. His paintings “Drunkard’s Plight” (1845), “At the Foot of the Cross” (1846), and “Uncle Tom and Little Eva” (1853) are in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

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Today in Black History, 12/20/2013

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• December 20, 1942 Robert Lee “Bullet Bob” Hayes, hall of fame track and field athlete and football player, was born in Jacksonville, Florida. While a student at Florida A&M University, Hayes was the Amateur Athletic Union 100 yard dash champion from 1962 to 1964 and in 1964 was the National Collegiate Athletic Association champion in the 200 meter race. At the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, he won Gold medals and set world records in the 100 meter race and the 4 by 100 meter relay. At that time, he was considered the world’s fastest man. Hayes was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1964 NFL Draft. Over his 11 season football career, he was a three-time Pro Bowl selection and was instrumental in the Cowboys’ 1972 Super Bowl victory. Hayes is the only man to win an Olympic Gold medal and a Super Bowl ring. In 1972, he was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame. Hayes died September 18, 2002. He was posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.

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Today in Black History, 12/19/2013

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• December 19, 1864 William Cooper Nell became the first African American to work in the federal civil service when he became a postal clerk in Boston, Massachusetts. Nell was born December 16, 1816 in Boston. He studied law in the early 1830s but was never certified as a lawyer because he would not swear allegiance to the Constitution of the United States which he believed advocated the enslavement of African Americans in the South. Nell was influential in organizing the Freedom Association and the Committee of Vigilance which were all-Black organizations that helped previously enslaved Black people that had fled to the North. From 1848 to 1851, Nell worked with Frederick Douglass on the abolitionist publication The North Star and was instrumental in the 1855 decision to allow African American students in Massachusetts to study alongside their White classmates. Nell was a prolific author and wrote two exhaustive studies of African Americans in war, “Services of Colored Americans in the Wars of 1776 and 1812” (1851) and “Colored Patriots of the American Revolution” (1855). Nell died May 25, 1874. “William Cooper Nell: Abolitionist, Historian and Integrationist; Selected Writings, 1832-1874” was published in 2002.

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Today in Black History, 12/18/2013

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• December 18, 1852 George Henry White, the last African American Congressman of the Reconstruction era, was born in Rosindale, North Carolina. After graduating from Howard University in 1877, White studied law privately and was admitted to the North Carolina bar in 1879. He entered politics in 1880 when he was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives. In 1884, he was elected to the North Carolina Senate and in 1886 was elected Solicitor and Prosecuting Attorney. In 1896, White was elected to the United States House of Representatives and re-elected in 1898. As a result of changes in the voting laws and the intimidation of Black voters, White did not run for a third term. In his farewell speech he said, “This is perhaps the Negroes’ temporary farewell to the American Congress but let me say, Phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again.” His speech was referenced by President Barack Obama in his remarks at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Awards Dinner September 26, 2009. White was an officer in the National Afro-American Council, a nationwide civil rights organization created in 1898. In 1906, White moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he practiced law, operated a commercial savings bank, and founded the town of Whitesboro, New Jersey as a real estate development. White died December 28, 1918. His biography, “George Henry White: An Even Chance in the Race of Life,” was published in 2000.

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Today in Black History, 12/17/2013

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• December 17, 1663 Nzinga Mbande, queen of the Ndongo and Maamba Kingdoms in southwestern Africa, died. Nzinga was born in 1583 in what is now Angola in southwestern Africa. After the death of her brother, Nzinga assumed the title of Queen of Ndongo in 1623. From 1624 to 1657, she led her troops in battle against the Portuguese colonizers. After signing a peace treaty with Portugal, Nzinga devoted her efforts to resettling formerly enslaved Africans. After her death, the Portuguese accelerated their occupation of southwest Africa and significantly expanded the slave trade. A major street in Luanda, Angola is named in Nzinga’s honor and a statue of her sits on an impressive square. A biography, “Nzinga: Warrior Queen of Matamba, Angola, Africa, 1595,” was published in 2000 and a play, “Nzinga, the Warrior Queen,” was produced in 2006. Nzinga’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, 12/16/2013

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• December 16, 1816 William Cooper Nell, abolitionist, author and civil servant, was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Nell studied law in the early 1830s but was never certified as a lawyer because he would not swear allegiance to the Constitution of the United States which he believed advocated the enslavement of African Americans in the South. Nell was influential in organizing the Freedom Association and the Committee of Vigilance which were all-Black organizations that helped previously enslaved Black people that had fled to the North. From 1848 to 1851, Nell worked with Frederick Douglass on the abolitionist publication The North Star and was instrumental in the 1855 decision to allow African American students In Massachusetts to study alongside their White classmates. Nell was a prolific author and wrote two exhaustive studies of African Americans in war, “Services of Colored Americans in the Wars of 1776 and 1812” (1851) and “Colored Patriots of the American Revolution” (1855). On December 19, 1864, Nell became a postal clerk in Boston, making him the first African American to work in the federal civil service. He died May 25, 1874. “William Cooper Nell: Abolitionist, Historian and Integrationist; Selected Writings, 1832-1874” was published in 2002.

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Today in Black History, 12/15/2013

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• December 15, 1883 William Augustus Hinton, bacteriologist, pathologist and educator, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Hinton earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Harvard University in 1905 and his Doctor of Medicine degree, with honors, from Harvard Medical School in 1912. Hinton returned to Harvard in 1918 as the first Black professor in the history of the university. In 1921, he began teaching bacteriology and immunology which he taught until his retirement in 1950. Hinton became internationally known as an expert in the diagnosis and treatment of syphilis and in 1936 published the first medical textbook by a Black American, “Syphilis and Its Treatment.” In recognition of his contributions as a serologist and public health bacteriologist, in 1948 Hinton was elected a life member of the American Social Science Association. Hinton died August 8, 1959. The William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts and the William Augustus Hinton Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois are named in his honor.

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Today in Black History, 12/14/2013

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• December 14, 1829 John Mercer Langston, attorney, abolitionist and educator, was born in Louisa County, Virginia. Langston earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1849 and Master of Arts degree in theology in 1852 from Oberlin College. Denied admission to law school because of his race, Langston studied under an established attorney and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1854. Together with his brothers, Langston became active in the Abolitionist Movement and in 1858 became president of the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society. During the Civil War, Langston was appointed to recruit African Americans to fight for the Union Army and after the war was appointed Inspector General for the Freedmen’s Bureau, a federal organization that assisted formerly enslaved Black people. From 1864 to 1868, Langston served as president of the National Equal Rights League which called for the abolition of slavery, support of racial unity and self-help, and equality before the law. In 1868, Langston established and served as dean of Howard University Law School, the first Black law school in the country. President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Langston a member of the Board of Health of the District of Columbia. In 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed him United States Minister to Haiti and in 1884 he was appointed Charge d’affaires to the Dominican Republic. In 1885, Langston was named the first president of Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (now Virginia State University) and in 1888 became the first Black person elected to the U. S. Congress from Virginia. In 1894, Langston published his autobiography, “From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capitol: Or the First and Only Negro Representative in Congress From the Old Dominion.” Langston died November 15, 1897. There are a number of schools named in his honor, including Langston University in Oklahoma. The John Mercer Langston Bar Association in Columbus, Ohio is also named in his honor. His biography, “John Mercer Langston and the Fight for Black Freedom, 1829 – 65,” was published in 1989 and his house in Oberlin was designated a National Historic Landmark May 15, 1975.

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Today in Black History, 12/13/2013

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• December 13, 1903 Ella Josephine Baker, civil and human rights activist, was born in Norfolk, Virginia. Baker graduated from Shaw University as class valedictorian in 1927 and moved to New York City. In 1931, she became the national director of the Young Negroes’ Cooperative League which sought to develop Black economic power through cooperative planning. In 1941, Baker was hired as secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and in 1943 was named director of branches. In 1957, Baker helped form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was the first staff person hired by the organization. In 1960, Baker resigned from SCLC and helped form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee where she served as mentor to many young people, including Julian Bond, Diane Nash, Stokely Carmichael, Bob Moses, and Bernice Johnson Reagon. From 1962 to 1967, Baker worked for the Southern Conference Education Fund which aimed to help Black and White people work together for social justice. In 1964, she helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Baker remained an activist until her death December 13, 1986. The 1981 documentary, “Fundi: The Story of Ella Baker,” revealed her important role in the Civil Rights Movement. In 2009, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor. The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, California and the Ella Baker School in New York City are named in her honor. Biographies of Baker include “Ella Baker: Freedom Bound” (1998) and “Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision” (2003).

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Today in Black History, 12/12/2013

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• December 12, 1882 Robert Morris, one of the first Black lawyers in the United States, died. Morris was born June 8, 1823 in Salem, Massachusetts. He became the student of a well known abolitionist and lawyer and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1847. Shortly after starting his practice, Morris became the first Black lawyer to file a lawsuit on behalf of a client in the U. S. The jury ruled in favor of Morris’ client. Morris was active in abolitionist causes and worked in opposition of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. He also filed the first U. S. civil rights challenge to segregated schools in the 1848 Roberts v. Boston case. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled against Morris in 1850. In the early 1850s, he was appointed a justice of the peace and was admitted to practice before U. S. district courts. When the Civil War began, Morris helped in the recruitment of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the first officially sanctioned African American unit in the U. S. Army, while also advocating for equal treatment of African American soldiers.

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Today in Black History, 12/11/2013

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• December 11, 1894 William B. Purvis of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania received patent number 530,650 for a Paper-Bag Machine which more perfectly formed the square bottom of paper bags. Purvis had previously received patent number 419,065 January 7, 1890 for a fountain pen. That invention made the use of an ink bottle obsolete by storing ink in a reservoir within the pen which was then fed to the tip of the pen. Over his lifetime, Purvis received nine additional patents. He is also believed to have invented, but did not patent, several other devices. Not much else is known of Purvis’ life.

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Today in Black History, 12/10/2013

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• December 10, 1854 Edwin C. Berry, businessman, was born in Oberlin, Ohio but raised in Athens, Ohio. Berry was often called the “Black Horatio Algier” because he erected a 22 room hotel which was one of the finest and most elegant hotels in Ohio. At the time of his retirement in 1921, he had a reputation as the most successful Black small city hotel operator in the country. Berry was a member of the National Negro Business League and a trustee of Wilberforce University. He died in 1931.

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Today in Black History, 12/9/2013

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• December 9, 1579 Saint Martin de Porres, Dominican lay brother, was born in Lima, Peru. At the age of 15, de Porres was admitted to the Dominican Convent of the Rosary as a servant boy. His piety and miraculous cures led his superiors to drop the racial limits on admission to the Order and he was made a full Dominican brother. At the age of 24, de Porres was given the habit of a coadjutor brother and assigned to the infirmary where many miracles were attributed to him. Although he never left Lima, many people around the world attributed their salvation to seeing him. By the time of his death November 3, 1639, de Porres was known as a saint throughout the region. Martin de Porres was beatified in 1837 and canonized May 6, 1962. Many buildings around the world are named after him, including Saint Martin de Porres High School in Detroit, Michigan. His biography, “St. Martin de Porres: Apostle of Charity,” was published in 1963.

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Today in Black History, 12/8/2013

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• December 8, 1868 Henry Hugh Proctor, author, lecturer and clergyman, was born near Fayetteville, Tennessee. Proctor earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Fisk University in 1891, his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Yale University in 1894, and his Doctor of Divinity degree from Clark University in 1904. In 1903, he co-founded the National Convention of Congregational Workers Among Colored People and became its first president. The mission of the organization was to help Black Congressional churches in the South become self-sufficient, employ more of their own graduates, promote Congregationalism among African Americans, and strengthen the theological departments of the schools in the American Missionary Association. Proctor was a strong believer in self-improvement and wanted to give the Atlanta African American community tools for improving their lives. In 1910, he founded the Atlanta Colored Music Festival Association which annually presented a concert based on the belief that music could ease racial animosity and promote racial harmony. Proctor authored “Between Black and White” in 1925. He died May 12, 1933.

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Today in Black History, 12/7/2013

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• December 7, 1859 John Merrick, entrepreneur and businessman, was born enslaved in Clinton, North Carolina. Merrick was freed after the Civil War and learned to read and write at a Reconstruction school. In 1880, he moved to Durham, North Carolina and opened a series of barbershops. The success of his barbershops and his community involvement made him prominent in both the White and Black communities. In 1898, he co-founded the North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association “to relieve stress amongst poverty stricken segments of Durham’s Negro population.” The institution later changed its name to North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. Additionally, in 1901 Merrick served as president of Lincoln Hospital and helped establish Durham’s first African American bank, Mechanics and Farmers Bank, and drug store, Bull City Drugs. In 1910, Merrick co-founded Merrick-Moore-Spaulding Real Estate Company to provide property insurance for Black property owners. The education of Black children was a priority for Merrick. In addition to supporting rural schools and the College for Blacks (now North Carolina Central University), he helped open a public library for the Black children of Durham. Just prior to his death August 6, 1919, the insurance company changed its name to North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. The company continues in business today. Merrick’s biography, “John Merrick: A Biographical Sketch,” was published in 1920.

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Today in Black History, 12/6/2013

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• December 6, 1865 The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted. The amendment officially abolished and continues to prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. This completed the abolition of the institution of slavery that had begun with the Emancipation Proclamation issued in 1863.

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Today in Black History, 12/5/2013

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• December 5, 1775 A petition signed by fourteen White officers was issued to the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony recognizing the exemplary service of Salem Poor at the Battle of Bunker Hill. The petition stated that he had “behaved like an experienced officer” and that in Poor “centers a brave and gallant soldier.” Not much is known of Poor’s life except that he was born enslaved in Andover, Massachusetts and bought his freedom in 1769. In 1775, he enlisted in the Continental Army and fought at Bunker Hill, Monmouth, and Saratoga. He was one of approximately 5,000 African Americans that fought for the patriots in the Revolutionary War. Little is known of Poor’s post-war life. In 1975, Poor was honored by the United States Postal Service with a commemorative postage stamp in the “Contributors to the Cause” series.

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Today in Black History, 12/4/2013

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• December 4, 1807 Prince Hall, the founder of “Black Freemasonry,” died. Hall was born September 14, 1735 in Barbados. Not much is known of his youth and how he ended up in Boston, Massachusetts. It is known that he was a property owner and a registered voter and that he worked as an abolitionist and civil rights activist. He fought for laws to protect Black people from kidnapping by slave traders and campaigned for schools for Black children. On March 6, 1775, Hall and fourteen other free Black men were initiated into Military Lodge No. 441, a Lodge attached to the British Army. When the British Army left, the Black Masons were granted a dispensation for limited operations as African Lodge No. 1 which then served as mother lodge to new Black lodges in other cities July 3, 1776. In 1791, Black Freemasons formed the African Grand Lodge of North America and unanimously elected Hall Grand Master, a position he held until his death. The African Grand Lodge was later renamed the Prince Hall Grand Lodge in his honor. Hall’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, 12/3/2013

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• December 3, 1847 Fredrick Douglass published the first edition of the North Star. In the first edition the paper stated, “It has long been our anxious wish to see, in this slave-holding, slave-trading, and Negro-hating land, a printed-press and paper, permanently established, under the complete control and direction of the immediate victims of slavery and oppression.” The North Star’s slogan, “Right is of no sex, Truth is of no color, God is the father of us all, and we are all brethren,” spoke to the scope of their coverage, including emancipation, women’s suffrage, and education. The newspaper and was published until June, 1851 when Douglass and Gerrit Smith agreed to merge the North Star with the Liberty Party Paper to form Frederick Douglass’ Paper. That paper was published for another ten years when Douglass was forced to shut it down for financial reasons.

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Today in Black History, 12/2/2013

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• December 2, 1866 Henry Thacker “Harry” Burleigh, classical composer, arranger and professional singer, was born in Erie, Pennsylvania. Burleigh was trained at the National Conservatory of Music in New York City and began his professional singing career as a soloist for the all-White St. George’s Episcopal Church where he sang until 1946. In 1900, he also became the only Black member of the synagogue choir at the Temple Emanu-El. In the late 1890s, Burleigh began to publish his own arrangements and compositions and by the late 1910s was one of America’s best known composers. Over his career, Burleigh wrote 265 vocal works and made 187 choral arrangements of African American spirituals. He was a charter member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 1914. In 1917, Burleigh was awarded the NAACP Springarn Medal. Burleigh died December 12, 1949. His biography, “Hard Trials: The Life and Music of Harry T. Burleigh,” was published in 1990.

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