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Today in Black History, 1/6/2013

• January 6, 1882 Thomas Boyne was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration. Boyne was born in 1849 in Prince George’s County, Maryland. In 1879, he was serving as a sergeant in Company C of the 9th Calvary Regiment in New Mexico during the Indian Wars. Boyne was cited for “bravery in action” at the Mimbres Mountains on May 29, 1879 and at the Cuchillo Negro River on September 27, 1879. He was discharged from the army in 1889 because of a disability and admitted to the U.S. Soldiers Home in 1890 where he lived until his death on April 21, 1896.

• January 6, 1906 Benedict Wallet Vilakaz, poet, novelist, and educator, was born Bambatha kaMshini near KwaDukuza, Natal (now South Africa). At the age of ten, he was baptized and given the name Benedict Wallet. He earned his teaching certificate in 1923 and taught at several schools. He published his first novel, “Nje nempela,” in 1933. It was one of the first works of Zulu fiction to treat modern subject matter. Vilakazi earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Africa in 1934 and began teaching at the University of Witwatersrand in 1936. He was the first black South African to teach white South Africans at the university level. In 1946, he earned his Ph.D. in literature from Witwatersrand for a dissertation on Zulu poetry, making him the first black South African to earn a doctorial degree. Vilakazi died October 26, 1947.

• January 6, 1909 George “Little Chocolate” Dixon, hall of fame boxer and the first black and first Canadian-born fighter to win a world boxing championship, died. Dixon was born July 29, 1870 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. His professional boxing career spanned 1886 to 1906. He won the World Bantamweight Boxing Championship in 1890 and the World Featherweight Boxing Championship in 1891. He held the featherweight title for six years before losing it in 1897. He regained it in 1898 before losing it for good in 1900. Dixon retired with a record of 64 wins, 29 losses, and 51 draws. He is considered by many to be the greatest fighter of the 19th century. Dixon is also credited with inventing shadow boxing. In 1990, he was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. There is a recreation center named in his honor in downtown Halifax.

• January 6, 1910 Kid Chocolate, hall of fame boxer, was born Eligio Sardinas Montalvo in Havana, Cuba. Montalvo never lost a fight as an amateur and turned professional in 1927. His first twelve professional fights were in Cuba before he moved to New York City in 1928.In 1931, Montalvo became Cuba’s first world boxing champion when he won the World Jr. Lightweight Boxing Championship. Montalvo retired in 1938 with a record of 136 wins, 10 losses, and 6 draws. After retiring, he returned to Cuba where his accomplishments were not recognized by the government until the late 1970s. Montalvo died August 8, 1988 and was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991. That same year, the Kid Chocolate Boxing Hall was opened in Havana.

• January 6, 1926 Kid Gavilan, hall of fame boxer, was born Gerardo Gonzalez in Camaguey, Cuba. Gavilan started boxing professionally in 1943 and won the World Welterweight Boxing Championship in 1951. In 1952, he successfully defended his title in the first boxing match between black and white fighters in segregated Miami, Florida. Gavilan retired in 1958 with a record of 106 wins, 30 losses, 6 draws, and 1 no contest and with the distinction of being one of the few fighters that was never knocked down or out in their professional career. Gavilan was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990 and died February 13, 2003.

• January 6, 1938 Ruppert Leon Sargent, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Hampton, Virginia. Sargent joined the United States Army and by March 15, 1967 was serving as a first lieutenant in Company B, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division during the Vietnam War. On that day, while in Hau Nghia Province of the Republic of Vietnam, his actions earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. His citation partially reads, “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. While leading a platoon of Company B, 1st Lt. Sargent was investigating a reported Viet Cong meeting house and weapons cache……..As they approached another Viet Cong emerged and threw 2 hand grenades that landed in the midst of the group. 1st Lt. Sargent fired 3 shots at the enemy then turned and unhesitatingly threw himself over the 2 grenades. He was mortally wounded, and his 2 companions were lightly wounded when the grenades exploded. By his courageous and selfless act of exceptional heroism, he saved the lives of the platoon sergeant and forward observer and prevented the injury or death of several other nearby comrades.” The medal was awarded to Sargent’s family April 17, 1969. The Ruppert Leon Sargent Memorial City Administration Building in Hampton was dedicated October 5, 2002.

• January 6, 1968 John Daniel Singleton, film director, screenwriter, and producer, was born in Los Angeles, California. Singleton earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of California School of Cinematic Arts in 1990 and made his film debut with “Boyz N the Hood” in 1991. That movie was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay and Best Director. Singleton was the youngest person ever nominated for best director and the first African American. He has also served as director, screenwriter, and producer for “Higher Learning” (1995), “Shaft” (2000), and “Baby Boy” (2001). In 2005, he co-financed the independent film “Hustle and Flow.” Singleton also directed “2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003), “Four Brothers” (2005), and “Abduction” (2011) and produced “Black Snake Moan” (2007) and “Illegal Tender” (2007).

• January 6, 1993 John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, hall of fame jazz trumpeter, bandleader, singer, and composer, died. Gillespie was born October 21, 1917 in Cheraw, South Carolina. By the age of four, he had started to play the piano. He also taught himself to play the trombone and the trumpet. His first professional job was with the Frank Fairfax Orchestra in 1935 and in 1939 he joined Cab Calloway’s orchestra. During this time, Gillespie also started writing big band music for other bands. In 1944, Gillespie put together his first big band and in the late 1940s was instrumental in the Afro-Cuban music movement, bringing Latin and African elements to greater prominence in jazz. His most famous Afro-Cuban compositions are “Manteca” and “Tin Tin Deo.” In 1956, Gillespie organized a band to go on a State Department tour of the Middle East, earning the nickname “the Ambassador of Jazz.” Gillespie was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1960 and was named a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1982. In 1989, Gillespie gave 300 performances in 27 countries and 31 states, headlined 3 television specials, performed with 2 symphonies, and recorded 4 albums. Also that year, he received the Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France’s most prestigious cultural award, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President George H. W. Bush. In 1990, Gillespie received the Kennedy Center Honors Award. Gillespie published his autobiography, “To Be or not to bop: Memoirs of Dizzy Gillespie,” in 1979.

• January 6, 1997 Louis Emanuel Martin, Jr., journalist, publisher, and civil rights activist, died. Martin was born November 18, 1912 in Shelbyville, Tennessee, but grew up in Savannah, Georgia. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from the University of Michigan in 1934 and in 1936 was hired as a reporter for the Chicago Defender. Six months later, he returned to Michigan to launch a new black newspaper, The Michigan Chronicle. For the next eleven years, Martin served as the editor and publisher of the newspaper. In 1940, he was one of the founders of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, an organization of black newspaper publishers, and in 1970 was a co-founder of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a research organization providing technical support for black officeholders and scholars. For more than half a century, Martin was a participant on the national political scene, advising Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Jimmy Carter and becoming known as the “Godfather of Black Politics.” In 1997, his biography, “Walking with Presidents,” was published.

• January 6, 2006 Louis Allen Rawls, soul, jazz, and blues singer, died. Rawls was born December 1, 1933 in Chicago, Illinois. He sang with Sam Cooke in a 1950s gospel group. He also sang background on Cooke’s recording of “Bring it on Home to Me” in 1962 and that same year released his first single “Stormy Weather.” In 1966, Rawls gained national attention with the release of the album “Soulin” which contained his first R&B number one single “Love is a Hurtin’ Thing.” In 1967, he won his first Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance for “Dead End Street.” He won the 1971 Grammy Award in the same category for “A Natural Man.” In 1976, Rawls recorded his most commercially successful single, “You’ll Never Find Another Love like Mine,” which became his only certified million selling single. In 1982, Rawls received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1980, Rawls began the “Lou Rawls Parade of Stars Telethon” to benefit the United Negro College Fund and over 27 shows that he hosted raised more than $200 million. Over his career, Rawls released more than 70 albums and sold more than 40 million records. The Lou Rawls Scholarship Foundation was established in 2007 to provide academic scholarships to qualified minority students and assist them in obtaining a college education.

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Founded in 1965 and located in the heart of Midtown Detroit’s Cultural Center, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is the world's largest institution dedicated to the African American experience. The Museum provides learning opportunities, exhibitions, programs and events based on collections and research that explore the diverse history and culture of African Americans and their African origins.