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Today in Black History, 1/8/2013

• January 8, 1811 The German Coast Uprising, a slave revolt that took place in the Territory of Orleans, began. The uprising was led by Charles Deslondes, a free person of color from Haiti, and lasted for two days. During that time between 200 and 500 enslaved persons participated, burning five plantation houses and killing two white men. A total of 95 insurgents were killed in the aftermath of the rebellion, including Deslondes who was captured and “had his hands chopped off then shot in one thigh and then the other until they were broken, then shot in the body, and before he had expired was put into a bundle of straw and roasted.” The legislature of the Orleans Territory approved compensation of $300 to planters for each enslave person killed or executed. Books about the uprising include “On to New Orleans! Louisiana’s Heroic 1811 Slave Revolt” (1996), and “American Uprising” (2010).

• January 8, 1912 The South African Native National Congress was founded to increase the rights of the black South African population. The organization became the African National Congress in 1923 and formed a military wing, the Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), in 1961. The ANC has been the ruling party of post-apartheid South Africa since 1994.

• January 8, 1922 Charles Young, the third African American graduate of West Point, died. Young was born March 12, 1864 in Mayslick, Kentucky. After graduating from high school at the age of 16, he taught at a black high school in Ripley, Ohio. In 1884, he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point and graduated in 1889. In 1903, he was appointed superintendent of Sequoia and General Grant national parks, becoming the first black superintendent of a national park. During the 1916 Punitive Expedition into Mexico, Young commanded a squadron of the 10th Calvary (Buffalo Soldiers) and due to his exceptional leadership was promoted to lieutenant colonel. Young was medically retired from the military in 1917 and spent most of 1917 and 1918 as a professor at Wilberforce University. In late 1918, he was reinstated into the army, promoted to colonel, and assigned as a military attaché to Liberia where he died. His funeral was one of only a few in history to be held at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery. In 1916, Young was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal and his house near Wilberforce was declared a National Historic Landmark May 30, 1974. The Charles E. Young Elementary School in Washington, D.C. was built to improve education in the city’s black neighborhoods and named in his honor. Several biographies have been published about Young, including “Colonel Charles Young: Soldier and Diplomat” (1985), “For Race and Country: The Life and Career of Charles Young” (2003), and “Black Officer in a Buffalo Soldier Regiment: The Military Career of Charles Young” (2010).

• January 8, 1961 Calvin Smith, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in Bolton, Mississippi. Smith ran track at the University of Alabama and in 1983 broke the 15 year old world record in the 100 meter race. He went on to win a Gold medal as part of the United States 4 by 100 meter relay team at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games and a Bronze medal in the 100 meter race at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. He continued to run for the United States into the 1990s In the later years of his career, he was named captain of the U.S. athletic teams at the Olympic Games and World Championships. Smith was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2007.

• January 8, 2007 Jane Matilda Bolin, the first African American woman to serve as a judge in the United States, died. Bolin was born April 11, 1908 in Poughkeepsie, New York. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Wellesley College in 1928 and became the first black woman to graduate from Yale Law School in 1931 when she earned her Bachelor of Laws degree. Bolin passed the New York state bar exam in 1932 and was in private practice until 1937. From 1937 to 1939, Bolin served as assistant corporation counsel in the New York City legal department. On July 22, 1939, Bolin was appointed a judge of the Domestic Relations Court, a position that she held until retirement in 1979. During her tenure, she worked to encourage racially integrated child services, assignment of probation officers without regard to race or religion, and acceptance of children at publicly funded childcare agencies without regard to ethnic background. After retiring from the bench, Bolin served on the New York State Board of Regents. She received honorary doctorate degrees from Tuskegee Institute, Williams College, Hampton University, Western College for Women, and Morgan State University.

• January 8, 2010 James Edward Cheek, educator and theologian, died. Cheek was born December 4, 1932 in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. He served in the United States Air Force and was honorably discharged in 1951. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology and history from Shaw University in 1955, his Master of Divinity degree from Colgate Rochester University in 1958, and his Ph.D. from Drew University in 1962. Cheek was appointed president of Shaw University in 1963 and in 1968 was appointed president of Howard University. During his tenure at Howard, the student population increased by 3,500 as well as the number of schools, research programs, full-time faculty, and Ph.D. programs. Howard’s budget increased from $43 million to $417 million. Cheek was named Washingtonian of the Year in 1980 and in 1983 was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Ronald Reagan. Cheek retired as president of Howard in 1989. The James E. Cheek Learning Resource Center at Shaw University is named in his honor.

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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.

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