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Today in Black History, 4/12/2012

• April 12, 1825 Richard Harvey Cain, minister, abolitionist, and congressman, was born in Greenbrier County, Virginia. Cain attended Wilberforce University and a divinity school in Missouri. He joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1848 and in 1865 moved to South Carolina as superintendent of AME missions. In 1872, Cain was elected to the United States House of Representatives from South Carolina. He did not seek re-election in 1874, but was elected a second time in 1876 and served one term. In 1880, Cain was ordained an AME bishop serving the diocese of Louisiana and Texas and during that time he helped found Paul Quinn College, serving as president until 1884. Cain died January 18, 1897.

 

• April 12, 1882 James “Jimmy” Winkfield, jockey, horse trainer, and the last African American to ride a winner in the Kentucky Derby, was born in Chilesburg, Kentucky. Winkfield began his career as a jockey in 1898 and rode in the Kentucky Derby for the first time in 1900, finishing third. He rode in the derby the next three years, winning in 1901 and 1902 and finishing second in 1903. Later that year, Winkfield immigrated to Russia where he was greeted as a celebrity and in the name of Czar Nicholas II competed at racetracks all over Europe. The Russian Revolution caused him to leave the country in 1917 and move to France where he resumed racing, winning numerous prestigious races. Winkfield retired from racing at the age of 50, having won more than 2,500 races, and began a successful career as a horse trainer. Winkfield died March 23, 1974 and was posthumously inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2004. The Jimmy Winkfield Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack is run in his honor. Several biographies have been written about Winkfield, including “Wink: The Incredible Life and Epic Journey of Jimmy Winkfield” (2004) and “Black Maestro: The Epic Life of an American Legend” (2006).

 

• April 12, 1885 Austin Thomas Walden, attorney and civil rights leader, was born in Fort Valley, Georgia. Walden earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Fort Valley Industrial School in 1902, his Master of Arts degree from Atlanta University in 1907, and his Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1911. He served in the United States Army from 1917 to 1918 during World War I where he commanded Company I of the 365th Infantry in France and was a trial judge advocate. In 1948, Walden founded and served as president of the Gate City Bar Association for African American lawyers in Atlanta. Walden litigated cases that helped equalize pay for Black teachers in Georgia and won lawsuits to desegregate the Atlanta Public School System and the University of Georgia. He also served as president of the Atlanta branch of the NAACP, vice president of the national organization, and a member of the national legal committee. Walden was a delegate to the 1964 Democratic National Convention, the first year that Blacks were included in the Georgia delegation. Also that year, he was appointed judge of the Atlanta Municipal Court, making him the first Black judge in Georgia since the Reconstruction Period. Walden died July 2, 1965.

 

• April 12, 1892 Johnny Dodds, jazz clarinetist, was born in Waveland, Mississippi, but raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. Dodds received his first clarinet in his early teens and was largely self-taught. He played with Kid Ory’s band from 1912 to 1919. In 1919, he moved to Chicago, Illinois to join King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, with which he first recorded in 1923. He also recorded with Louis Armstrong’s Hot 5 and Hot 7 and Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers. Dodds died August 8, 1940. His biography, “Johnny Dodds,” was published in 1961 and he was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1987.

 

• April 12, 1907 Helen Jackson Claytor, the first black president of the YWCA national board, was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Claytor earned her bachelor’s degree cum laude in education from the University of Minnesota in 1928. She was also valedictorian of her class and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Despite her credentials, Claytor found that teaching jobs for blacks were nonexistent. She therefore took a job with the YWCA. In 1943, Claytor moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan and in 1949 became president of the local YWCA board, the first black YWCA president in the country. In 1967, she was elected president of the national YWCA board, again the first black to hold that position. In 1970, during the first YWCA national convention over which she presided, the justice and equality imperative was adopted and became a tenet of all YWCAs. This called for “the elimination of racism wherever it exists and by any means necessary.” Claytor resigned from the national board in 1974 and went on to serve on the National Women’s Advisory Committee for Civil Rights and the National Office of Equal Opportunity. She received honorary doctorates from Eastern Michigan University in 1968 and Western Michigan University in 1972. Claytor was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1984 and died May 10, 2005.

 

• April 12, 1909 Alonzo Graseano Moron, the first black president of Hampton University, was born in the Virgin Islands. In 1923, Moron was sent to Hampton Institute where in 1927 he received a degree in upholstering. In 1932, Moron graduated cum laude Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor of philosophy degree from Brown University and in 1933 he earned his Master of Arts degree in sociology from the University of Pittsburgh. That same year, he was appointed commissioner of public works for the Virgin Islands. Moron returned to the United States in 1936 and earned his Bachelor of Laws degree from Harvard University Law School in 1947. In 1949, Moron was appointed president of Hampton Institute, the first black president of the historically black institution, a position he held until his resignation in 1959. During his tenure, he achieved financial security for the institution and proved that a school for African Americans could be successful with a black man in charge. After resigning, Moron returned to the Virgin Islands where he was named deputy regional administrator for an entire region which included the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Moron died October 1, 1971.

 

• April 12, 1940 Herbert Jeffrey “Herbie” Hancock, jazz pianist and composer, was born in Chicago, Illinois. From the age of seven, Hancock studied classical music and at the age of eleven played the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 5 with the Chicago Symphony. In 1961, he began working with Donald Byrd and Coleman Hawkins. He recorded his first solo album, “Takin Off,” in 1962. From 1963 to 1968, Hancock played with the Miles Davis Quintet, but also recorded his own albums, including “Empyrean Isles” (1964) and “Maiden Voyage” (1965). Also in 1966, he composed the first of many soundtracks for the movie “Blowup.” Other soundtracks composed by Hancock include the music for “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” (1973) and “Death Wish” (1974). In 1986, Hancock won the Academy Award for Original Music Score for the music for the film “’Round Midnight.” His album “River: The Joni Letters” won the 2008 Grammy Album of the Year Award, only the second jazz album to ever win that award. Including that one, Hancock has won 14 Grammy Awards and is considered one of the most influential jazz musicians of the 20th century. Hancock was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the United States bestows on a jazz musician, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2004 and inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 2005. In 2001, Hancock was named Goodwill Ambassador for the promotion of intercultural dialogue by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

 

• April 12, 1942 Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, President of South Africa, was born in Inkandla, South Africa. Although he received no formal schooling, Zuma engaged in politics at an early age and joined the African National Congress in 1959. In 1963, he was convicted of conspiring to overthrow the Apartheid government and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. After his release from prison, Zuma was instrumental in re-establishing the ANC underground structures. In 1975, he was forced to leave South African by the government and spent the next 15 years in Mozambique, Swaziland, and Zambia. In 1977, he became a member of the ANC National Executive Committee and in the mid-1980s he served on the ANC political and military council. Following the end of the government ban on the ANC in 1990, Zuma returned to South Africa and was elected chairperson for the Southern Natal region. In 1994, he was elected national chairperson of the ANC and in 1997 deputy president. In 2007, Zuma was elected president of the ANC and in 2009 he was sworn in as President of South Africa.

 

• April 12, 1952 Ralph Wiley, sports journalist and author, was born in Memphis, Tennessee. Wiley earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Knoxville College in 1975 and took a position at the Oakland Tribune where he coined the phrase “Billyball” to describe the managerial style of Billy Martin. In 1982, he was hired by Sports Illustrated where he wrote 28 cover stories over nine years, mainly about boxing, football, and baseball. Wiley published several books, including “Serenity, A Boxing Memoir” (1989), “Why Black People Tend to Shout” (1991), and “What Black People Should Do Now: Dispatches From Near the Vanguard” (1993). Wiley died June 13, 2004.

 

• April 12, 1975 Josephine Baker, entertainer and actress, died. Baker was born Freda Josephine McDonald on June 3, 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri. She dropped out of school at the age of 12. At the age of 15, she moved to New York City and appeared in the chorus of “Shuffle Along” (1921). By the time she appeared in “The Chocolate Dandies” (1924), she was the highest paid chorus girl in vaudeville. In 1925, she debuted in Paris and after a while was the most successful American entertainer working in France. Despite her popularity in France, Baker never achieved the same level of success in the United States. In 1937, she returned to Paris and became a French citizen. During World War II, Baker volunteered to spy for France and provided significant assistance to the French Resistance. In recognition of her efforts, Baker was the first American born woman to receive the French military honor, the Croix de Guerre. Although based in France, Baker was supportive of the Civil Rights Movement. When in the United States she refused to perform for segregated audiences and she spoke at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Biographies of Baker include “Jazz Cleopatra: Josephine Baker in Her Time” (1989) and “Josephine: The Hungry Heart.” In 1991, HBO broadcast her life story in the film “The Josephine Baker Story.”

 

• April 12, 1980 William Richard Tolbert, Jr., former President of Liberia, was killed in a coup d’etat. Tolbert was born May 13, 1913 in Bensonville, Liberia. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Liberia in 1934 and entered government in 1935 as a civil servant. Tolbert was also an ordained minister and in 1965 became the first African to serve as president of the Baptist World Alliance. In 1951, he was elected Vice President of Liberia where he served until the death of President William Tubman in 1971. Tolbert succeeded Tubman and served as president until his death.

 

• April 12, 1981 Joe Louis, hall of fame boxer known as the Brown Bomber, died. Louis was born Joseph Louis Barrow on May 13, 1914 in La Fayette, Alabama, but raised in Detroit, Michigan. He made his amateur boxing debut in 1932 and at the end of his amateur career in 1934 had compiled a record of 50 wins and 4 losses. Louis turned professional in 1934 and in 1935 won the Associated Press’ Athlete of the Year Award. In 1937, Louis won the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship and thousands of African Americans across the country stayed up all night celebrating. Louis held the championship for 140 consecutive months and had 25 successful title defenses, still records for the heavyweight division. His defeat of the German, Max Schmeling, and his service during World War II made him the first African American to achieve the status of national hero in the United States and in 1945 he was awarded the Legion of Merit medal for “incalculable contribution to the general morale.” Louis initially retired from boxing in 1949, but had to return due to financial problems. Of the more than $4.5 million earned during his boxing career, Louis received about $800,000 and he was very generous with that. Louis finally retired for good in 1951 with a record of 65 wins and 3 losses. In 1982, Louis was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, in 1986 a memorial to Louis was dedicated in Detroit, and in 1990 he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Joe Louis Arena in Detroit is named in his honor. In 1993, he became the first boxer to be honored with a commemorative postage stamp by the United States Postal Service and in 2010 an 8 foot bronze statue of him was unveiled in his Alabama hometown. Louis was named the greatest heavyweight of all time by the International Boxing Research Organization. Louis published his autobiography, “Joe Louis: My Life,” in 1978. Other biographies of Louis include “Joe Louis, the Brown Bomber” (1980) and “Joe Louis: The Great Black Hope” (1998). Louis’ name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

 

• April 12, 1989 Sugar Ray Robinson, hall of fame boxer, died. Robinson was born Walker Smith, Jr. on May 3, 1921 in Detroit, Michigan, but raised in New York City. He began boxing at the age of 14 and finished his amateur career with a record of 85 wins and no losses. Robinson made this professional debut in 1940, but his career was interrupted for 15 months by a stint in the United States Army. After being honorably discharged from the army in 1944, Robinson won his first boxing title in 1946 when he won the World Welterweight Boxing Championship. Over his career, Robinson won the World Middleweight Boxing Championship five times and retired in 1965 with a record of 175 wins, 19 losses and 6 draws. He was named Fighter of the Year in 1942 and 1951, and in 1997 Ring Magazine named him Fighter of the Decade for the 1950s. Robinson was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. Robinson published his autobiography, “Sugar Ray,” in 1970 and “Pound for Pound: A Biography of Sugar Ray Robinson” was published in 2005.

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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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