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Today in Black History, 6/7/2013

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• June 7, 1917 Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks, hall of fame poet and novelist, was born in Topeka, Kansas, but raised in Chicago, Illinois. Brooks published her first poem in a children’s magazine at 13 and by the time she was 16 had a portfolio of 75 published poems. In 1945, her first book of poetry, “A Street in Bronzeville,” was published and it received instant critical acclaim. Her second book of poetry, “Annie Allen,” was published in 1949 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry May 5, 1950, the first won by an African American. In 1962, Brooks began teaching creative writing at several institutions, including Northeastern Illinois University and Columbia University. Her book length poem, “In the Mecca” (1968), was nominated for the National Book Award for Poetry. Also in 1968, Brooks was appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois and in 1985 was selected the Library of Congress’s Consultant in Poetry (now titled Poet Laureate). Brooks was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1988 and in 1994 was chosen as the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Jefferson Lecturer, the highest honor in the humanities given by the federal government. In 1995, she was presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President William Clinton. Brooks was awarded more than 75 honorary degrees from colleges and universities worldwide and there are a number of schools in Illinois named in her honor. Brooks died December 3, 2000. Her biography, “A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks,” was published in 1990.

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Today in Black History, 6/6/2013

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• June 6, 1902 James Melvin Lunceford, bandleader and alto saxophonist, was born in Fulton, Mississippi, but raised in Denver, Colorado. Lunceford earned his Bachelor of Music degree from Fisk University in 1926. While teaching high school in Memphis, Tennessee, he formed a student band which eventually became the Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra. In 1934, the band began an engagement at the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York and by 1935 they had achieved a national reputation as one of the top black swing bands. The Lunceford Orchestra recorded 22 hits, including the number one “Rhythm Is Our Business” in 1935. It was the first black band to play New York’s Paramount Theater and tour white colleges. Glen Miller was quoted as saying, “Duke Ellington is great, Count Basie remarkable, but Lunceford tops them all.” By 1942, the band began to have internal problems and suffered a decline in popularity. Lunceford died July 12, 1947. The Jimmy Lunceford Jamboree Festival is held annually in Memphis and in 2011 a Mississippi Blues Trail marker dedicated to Lunceford was unveiled.

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Today in Black History, 6/5/2013

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• June 5, 1893 Mary Ann Camberton Shadd, educator and publisher, died. Shadd was born October 9, 1823 in Wilmington, Delaware. In 1840, she moved to West Chester, Pennsylvania and established a school for black children. When the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 threatened to return free northern black people to bondage, Shadd moved to Windsor, Ontario where she founded a racially integrated school. In 1853, Shadd founded The Provincial Freeman newspaper which promoted temperance, moral reform, civil rights, and black self-help. Published until 1859, it was one of the longest published black newspapers before the Civil War. In 1861, Shadd published “Voice from Harper’s Ferry,” a tribute to John Brown’s unsuccessful raid. That same year, she returned to the United States and during the Civil War served as a recruiting officer to enlist black volunteers for the Union Army. After the war, she moved to Washington, D.C. where she taught school and attended Howard University Law School. In 1883 she graduated, becoming the second black woman to earn a law degree in the United States. On December 8, 1976, Shadd’s former residence in Washington, D.C. was designated a National Historic Landmark. Her biographies include “Shadd: The Life and Times of Mary Shadd Cary” (1977) and “Mary Ann Shadd Cary: The Black Press and Protest in the Nineteenth Century” (1998).

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Today in Black History, 6/4/2013

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• June 4, 1895 Joseph Lee of Auburndale, Massachusetts received patent number 540,553 for a machine that made bread crumbs. Lee sold the rights for the machine to the Royal Worchester Bread Crumb Company and the machine was soon in major restaurants around the world. Lee had previously received patent number 524,042 for an improved dough-kneading machine for use in hotels August 7, 1894. Lee was born July 19, 1849 in Boston, Massachusetts and began working in a bakery as a boy. He soon began preparing and serving food, eventually opening two successful restaurants. For 17 years beginning in the late 1890s, he owned the Woodland Park Hotel in Newton, Massachusetts. In 1902, Lee opened the Lee Catering Company which served the wealthy population of Boston. At the same time, he also operated the Squantum Inn, a summer resort that specialized in seafood. Lee died in 1905.

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Today in Black History, 6/3/2013

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• June 3, 1871 Miles Vandahurst Lynk, pioneering physician, was born in Brownsville, Tennessee. In 1888, at the age of 17, Lynk took a job teaching in black rural schools to earn money to further his education. In 1891, he earned a medical degree from Meharry Medical College and in 1892 founded “The Medical and Surgical Observer,” the first national medical journal for black physicians. The monthly journal was published until 1894, focusing on black medical issues and offering the latest information available on treatments and professional ethics. In 1895, Lynk was one of the twelve founders of the National Association of Colored Physicians, Dentists and Pharmacists, predecessor to the National Medical Association. In 1900, Lynk founded the University of West Tennessee, a black university that taught medicine, dentistry, and law that operated until 1924. In 1952, Lynk received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Medical Association. Lynk died December 29, 1957. The Tennessee Historical Commission erected a historical marker near his home in Brownsville to commemorate his life.

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Today in Black History, 6/2/2013

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• June 2, 1868 John Hope, educator and political activist, was born in Augusta, Georgia. Hope graduated from Worcester Academy in 1890 and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Brown University in 1894. In 1898, Hope became professor of classics at Atlanta Baptist College (now Morehouse College) and in 1906 was appointed the institution’s first black president. Hope also joined W.E.B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter as founders of the Niagara Movement. In 1928, Morehouse and Spelman College affiliated with Atlanta University to form the Atlanta University Center and Hope was chosen to be president, a position he held until his death February 20, 1936. Later in 1936, Hope was posthumously awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. Hope was awarded honorary degrees by several colleges and universities, including Brown University, Bates College, and Howard University. Hope’s biography, “The Story of John Hope,” was published in 1948 and “A Clashing of the Soul: John Hope and the Dilemma of African American Leadership and Black Higher Education in the Early Twentieth Century” was published in 1998.

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Today in Black History, 6/1/2013

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• June 1, 1875 Alexander P. Ashbourne of Oakland, California received patent number 163,962 for a process for refining coconut oil for domestic use. His process allowed the coconut to retain its flavor for years without depreciation. Additionally, Ashbourne received patent number 170,460 for an improved biscuit cutter November 30, 1875, patent number 194,287 for a process for treating coconut August 21, 1877, and patent number 230,518 for a process for preparing coconut July 27, 1880. Not much else is known of Ashbourne’s life except that he was a successful dry goods grocer.

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Today in Black History, 5/31/2013

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• May 31, 1834 Anthony Burns was born enslaved in Stafford County, Virginia. In 1853, Burns escaped slavery to Boston, Massachusetts. There he worked for a clothing dealer until May 24, 1854 when he was arrested under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. On May 26, a crowd of abolitionist stormed the courthouse in an unsuccessful attempt to free Burns. Burns was tried and ordered to be returned to his Virginia owner. On the day of his return, the streets between the courthouse and the harbor were lined with federal troops to hold back the protesters as Burns was escorted to the ship. The Burns case fueled anti-slavery sentiments across the North. The abolitionist community of Boston raised $1,300 to buy Burns’ freedom and he returned to Boston to live. Burns subsequently received an education at Oberlin College and moved to Upper Canada to accept a call to preach at a Baptist church. He died July 17, 1862. “Imperfect Revolution: Anthony Burns and the Landscape of Race in Antebellum America” was published in 2011.

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Today in Black History, 5/30/2013

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• May 30, 1902 Stepin Fetchit, hall of fame comedian and film actor, was born Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry in Key West, Florida. He began entertaining in his teens as a comic character. Stepin Fetchit was his stage name and Perry parlayed his persona as “the laziest man in the world” into a successful film career, appearing in 54 films between 1925 and 1976, and becoming the first black actor to become a millionaire. His films included “The Mysterious Stranger” (1925), “The Prodigal” (1931), and “Amazing Grace” (1974). In his personal life, Perry was highly literate and had a concurrent career writing for the Chicago Defender. Perry was often criticized by civil rights leaders for his roles, but in 1976 the Hollywood Chapter of the NAACP awarded him a special NAACP Image Award and in 1978 he was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. Perry also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Perry died November 19, 1985. Biographies of Perry include “Stepin Fletchit: The Life and Times of Lincoln Perry” (2005) and “Shuffling to Ignominy: The Tragedy of Stepin Flechit” (2005).

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Today in Black History, 5/29/2013

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• May 29, 1914 Henry Ransom Cecil McBay, chemist and educator, was born in Mexia, Texas. McBay earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Wiley College in 1934 and his Master of Science degree from Atlanta University in 1936. McBay then taught at several educational institutions before accepting a position at the University of Chicago. While doing research at the university, McBay made discoveries that allowed chemists around the world to create inexpensive peroxide compounds which were useful as building blocks in many chemical reactions. As a result of that research, McBay received the Elizabeth Norton Prize for Excellence at Research in Chemistry in 1944 and 1945. In 1945, McBay earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and returned as an assistant professor to Morehouse College. McBay taught in the Atlanta University system for the next 41 years. In 1951, McBay developed a chemistry education program in Liberia on behalf of the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Other honors and awards earned by McBay include The Herty Award for Outstanding Contribution to Chemistry from the American Chemical Society of Georgia in 1976 and The Norris Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Teaching of Chemistry from the American Chemical Society of the Northeast in 1978. The Henry McBay Endowed Chemistry Scholarship was established at Morehouse in 1986 and the Henry C. McBay Research Fellowship was established by the United Negro College Fund in 1995. McBay died September 23, 1995.

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Today in Black History, 5/28/2013

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• May 28, 1875 Isaac Payne, John Ward, and Pompey Factor received the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, for their actions during the Indian Wars. All three men were black Seminoles known as Seminole Negro Indian Scouts. Payne served as a trumpeter, Factor was a private, and Ward was a sergeant attached to the 24th Infantry Regiment. On April 25, 1875 they along with one other man “participated in a charge against 25 hostiles while on a scouting patrol” by the Pecos River in Texas. Not much else is known of their lives other then Payne was born in 1854 and died January 14, 1904, Ward was born in 1848 and died May 24, 1911, and Factor was born in 1849 and died March 28, 1928.

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Today in Black History, 5/27/2013

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• May 27, 1935 Ramsey Emmanuel Lewis, Jr., jazz composer, pianist, and radio personality, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Lewis began taking piano lessons at the age of four and at 15 joined his first jazz band. In 1956, he released his first album, “Ramsey Lewis and The Gentlemen of Swing,” and after releasing such hits as “The In Crowd” (1965), which won the Grammy Award for Best Small Group Jazz Recording, “Hang on Sloopy” (1966), and “Wade in the Water” (1966), Lewis was recognized as one of the most successful jazz pianist. Lewis has recorded over 80 albums, received five gold records, and won two additional Grammy Awards. His most recent album was “Taking Another Look” (2011). From 1990 to 2009, he hosted a weekly syndicated radio program, “Legends of Jazz,” and in 2006 he hosted a television series of the same name. In 2005, the Ramsey Lewis Foundation was established to help connect at-risk children to the world of music. In 2007, Lewis was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor that the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts. He received an honorary doctorate degree from Loyola University Chicago in 2008. Lewis serves on the board of the Merit School of Music, a Chicago inner-city music program, and the Chicago High School for the Arts.

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Today in Black History, 5/26/2013

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• May 26, 1883 Mamie Robinson Smith, vaudeville singer, dancer, pianist, and actress, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. As a teenager, Smith danced in Salem Tutt Whitney’s Smart Set and in 1920 she recorded a set of songs, including “Crazy Blues” and “It’s Right Here For You (If You Don’t Get It, T’ain’t No Fault of Mine).” These were the first recordings of vocal blues by an African American singer and sold over a million copies in one year. “Crazy Blues” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1994 as a recording of “qualitative or historical significance” and selected to be part of the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress in 2005 as a recording of “cultural, historical, or aesthetical importance.” Smith continued to record throughout the 1920s and toured the United States and Europe. She appeared in a number of motion pictures, including “Jail House Blues” (1929), “Paradise in Harlem” (1939), and “Murder on Lennox Avenue” (1941). Smith died September 16, 1946.

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Today in Black History, 5/25/2013

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• May 25, 1849 Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins, autistic savant and piano music prodigy, was born enslaved and blind in Harris County, Georgia. By the age of four, Wiggins had acquired piano skills based solely on hearing and at the age of five composed his first tune, “The Rain Storm.” At the age of eight, Wiggins was licensed to a traveling show and marketed as a “Barnum style freak.” In 1860, Wiggins performed at the White House for President James Buchanan and in 1866 was taken on a European concert tour. It was said that his memory was prodigious and he never forgot anything, he was often called “a human parrot.” During the latter part of the 19th century, he was one of the most well known American pianists. Despite his fame, Wiggins was exploited, deceived, and robbed of the money he earned by his white guardians. Wiggins died June 14, 1908. His biography, “The Ballad of Blind Tom, Slave Pianist” was published in 2009.

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Today in Black History, 5/24/2013

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• May 24, 1911 John Ward, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Ward was born in 1847 in Arkansas. He was a Black Seminole and served as a sergeant in the 24th United States Army Infantry during the Indian Wars. On April 25, 1875, he and three other men “participated in a charge against 25 hostiles while on a scouting patrol” by the Pecos River in Texas. Not much else is known of Ward’s life.

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Voices of the Civil War Episode 16 "102nd U.S. Colored Regiment"

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MAY 2013: The Voices of the Civil War is a five-year film series dedicated to celebrating and commemorating the Civil War over the course of the sesquicentennial. Each month, new episodes cover pertinent topics that follow the monthly events and issues as they unfolded for African Americans during the Civil War. Within these episodes there are various primary sources – letters and diaries, newspaper reports, and more - to recount various experiences of blacks during this period. We encourage your feedback and commentary through our Voices of the Civil War web blog.

Click here to visit the Voices of the Civil War blog to see previous episodes.

On May 22, 1863, the United States War Department established the Bureau of Colored Troops to organize and handle the enlistment of black troops into the Union Army. Colored infantries were formed all across the country. On May 23, 1864, the First Michigan Colored Volunteer Infantry was re-designated the 102nd Regiment United States Colored Troops. The 102nd fought throughout South Carolina, eastern Georgia, and Florida during the Civil War.

Credits

1, 4. National Archives and Records Administration

2, 3, 5-8, 11, 17, 20. Library of Congress

9. ac03289 Collection of The New-York Historical Society

10, 12. Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

13, 14. State Archives of Michigan

15, 16. Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

18. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper

21. Reynolds Farley’s website: www.Detroit1701.org

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Today in Black History, 5/23/2013

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• May 23, 1832 Samuel Sharpe, national hero of Jamaica, was hanged for leading the Christmas Rebellion. Sharpe was born enslaved in 1801 in St. James, Jamaica. Although enslaved, Sharpe was allowed to be educated and became a preacher and leader in the enslaved community. On December 25, 1831, he organized a peaceful strike of several estates in western Jamaica during sugar cane harvest time. As a result of reprisals by the plantation owners, the strikers burned the crops. This caused the peaceful protest to turn into Jamaica’s largest slave rebellion, resulting in hundreds of black and 14 white deaths. The Jamaican military ended the rebellion within two weeks and many of the leaders, including Sharpe were hanged. Just before he was hanged, Sharpe stated “I would rather die among yonder gallows, than live in slavery.” In 1975, the government of Jamaica proclaimed Sharpe a National Hero and Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College was founded. Sam Sharpe Square is located in downtown Montego Bay, Jamaica. Sharpe’s image is also on the Jamaican $50 bill.

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Today in Black History, 5/22/2013

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• May 22, 1914 Sun Ra, hall of fame jazz pianist, composer, bandleader, and poet, was born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Alabama. Sun Ra was a skilled pianist as a child and by the age of 12 was writing original music. As a teenager, he would see big band performances and produce full transcriptions of the music from memory. By his mid-teens, he was performing professionally as a solo pianist or as a member of various jazz and R&B groups. In 1934, Sun Ra took over leadership of a group and renamed it the Sonny Blount Orchestra. From the mid-1950s to his death May 30, 1993, Sun Ra led The Arkestra. He was one of the first jazz leaders to use two basses and electronic instruments. In 1982, he was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts and in 1984 he was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. Sun Ra’s poetry and prose is available in “Sun Ra, The Immeasurable Equation,” published in 2005. His biography, “Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra,” was published in 1998.

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Today in Black History, 5/21/2013

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• May 21, 1879 John Jones, businessman and civil rights activist, died. Jones was born November 3, 1816 in Greene County, North Carolina. He was trained as a tailor and in 1845 moved to Chicago, Illinois and opened a tailoring shop. His business thrived and he invested in real estate. By 1860, Jones was one of the wealthiest African Americans in the nation. Jones was an outspoken civil rights activist and a leader in the fight to repeal Illinois’ black laws. In 1864, he published a pamphlet, “The Black Laws of Illinois and Why They Should Be Repealed.” Jones also served as a vice president of the Colored National Convention and president of the first Black Illinois State Convention. In 1871, Jones was elected the first black Cook County Commissioner. He was re-elected to a three-year term in 1872.

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Today in Black History, 5/20/2013

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• May 20, 1743 Francois-Dominique Toussaint L’Ouverture, Haitian patriot and revolutionary leader, was born enslaved in Saint-Domingue, Hispaniola (now Haiti). At an early age, Toussaint’s master recognized his superior intelligence and taught him French, gave him duties which allowed him to educate himself, and freed him at age 33. Beginning in 1791, Toussaint led enslaved black people in a long struggle for independence from French colonizers, to abolish slavery, and secure native control over the colony. By 1796, Toussaint was the dominant figure in Haiti and tried to rebuild the collapsed economy and reestablish commercial contacts with the United States and Britain. However, in 1802 he was kidnapped by the French and died in a French prison April 7, 1803. Toussaint figures importantly in the early 19th century writings of several authors as a symbol and exemplar of resistance to slavery and as an example of the potential of the black race. He also inspired a number of 20th century works, including Leslie Pinckey Hill’s “Toussaint L’Ouverture: A Dramatic History” (1928), Arna Bontemps’ “Drums at Dusk” (1939), and Aime Cesaire’s “Toussaint Louverture” (1960). Toussaint’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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