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Today in Black History, 3/22/2013

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• March 22, 1892 Dox Thrash, painter and printmaker, was born in Griffen, Georgia. In 1911, Thrash moved to Chicago, Illinois to study at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1917, he joined the United States Army and 14 months later was gassed and wounded while serving in France. After being discharged, he returned to the Art Institute where he studied until 1923. In 1926, Thrash moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he worked for the Fine Print Workshop division of the Federal Arts Project. While there, he developed the carborundum printmaking process, the use of carborundum to etch copper plates instead of other etching techniques. After this, Thrash expanded his imagery to reflect the social evolution of African Americans during the first half of the 20th century. Although he was a well known artist by the 1940s, when he applied for a job at the Philadelphia Navy Yard as an insignia painter, he was turned down because “the job was not available for a member of my race.” Thrash remained a prominent artist in Philadelphia until his death April 19, 1965. In 2002, the Philadelphia Museum of Art presented a major retrospective of his work, featuring over 100 drawings, watercolors, and prints.

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Today in Black History, 3/21/2013

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• March 21, 1856 Henry Ossian Flipper, the first African American cadet to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point, was born enslaved in Thomasville, Georgia. After the Civil War, Flipper enrolled at Atlanta University and as a freshman was appointed to West Point where there were already four black cadets. Despite the difficulties caused by his white classmates, Flipper persevered and graduated June 14, 1877. As a second lieutenant, Flipper was the first non-white officer to command the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry. In 1878, Flipper described his experience at West Point in the book “The Colored Cadet at West Point.” In 1881, Flipper was found guilty “of conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman” and dismissed from the service based on a relationship and correspondence with a white woman. Flipper contested the charges and fought to regain his commission until his death May 3, 1940. In 1976, the Department of the Army issued Flipper a posthumous Certificate of Honorable Discharge and in 1990 President William Clinton issued a pardon. After his discharge was changed, a bust of Flipper was unveiled at West Point and annually the Henry O. Flipper Award is given to graduating cadets who exhibit “leadership, self-discipline and perseverance in the face of unusual difficulties.” “Negro Frontiersman: The Western Memoirs of Henry O. Flipper” was published in 1963.

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Today in Black History, 3/20/2013

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• March 20, 1883 Jan Earnst Matzeliger of Lynn, Massachusetts received patent number 274,207 for his Automatic Method for Lasting Shoes. His machine could produce shoes ten times faster than working by hand and resulted in a more than 50% reduction in the cost of shoes. Matzeliger was born September 15, 1852 in Paramaribo, Dutch Guyana (now Suriname). After working as a sailor, he settled in the United States at the age of 19. By 1877, he had moved to Massachusetts and was working for a cobbler. After five years of work, he patented his invention. Matzeliger never saw the profits of his invention due to his death August 24, 1889. He also posthumously received patent numbers 415,726 November 26, 1889 for a mechanism for distributing tacks and nails, 421,954 February 25, 1890 for a nailing machine, 423,937 March 25, 1890 for a tack separating and distributing mechanism, and 459,899 September 22, 1891 for a lasting machine. In 1991, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor and in 2006 he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

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Today in Black History, 3/19/2013

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• March 19, 1872 Turner Byrd, Jr. of Williamsville, Michigan received patent number 124,790 for an improved apparatus for detaching horses from carriages. Byrd’s invention allowed the occupant of a carriage, when a horse became unmanageable, to simply pull a string to separate the horse from the carriage. Byrd also received patent numbers 123,328 February 6, 1872 for an improved harness rein holder, 126,181 April 30, 1872 for an improved neck-yoke for wagons, and 157,370 December 1, 1874 for an improvement in railcar couplings. Not much else is known of Byrd’s life.

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Today in Black History, 3/18/2013

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• March 18, 1901 William Henry Johnson, artist, was born in Florence, South Carolina. As a teenager, Johnson knew he wanted to be an artist. Around 1919, he moved to New York City to study and enrolled at the National Academy of Design. From 1926 to 1938, Johnson lived and painted in Europe. In 1947, Johnson developed mental illness and was institutionalized until his death in 1970. Before his death, all of his work was donated to what is now the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Today, Johnson is recognized as one of the greatest American artists of the 20th century. The United States Postal Service included his still-life painting “Flowers” (1939/1940) in its American Treasures series of postage stamps. The William H. Johnson Foundation for the Arts in Los Angeles, California was established in 2001 to provide financial assistance to early career minority artists.

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Today in Black History, 3/17/2013

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• March 17, 1806 Norbert Rillieux, engineer and inventor, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. As a Creole from a prominent family, Rillieux had access to education and privileges not available to many other black people. In the early 1820s, he travelled to Paris, France to attend school, studying physics, mechanics, and engineering. He became an expert in steam engines and published several papers about the use of steam to work devices. At the age of 24, he became the youngest teacher at the school. While in France, Rillieux started researching ways to improve the sugar refining process and after returning to the United States in 1833 began to develop a machine for which he was granted patent number 3237 August 26, 1843. The multiple-effect evaporation system that he devised addressed all of the shortcomings of prior sugar refining processes and by 1849 thirteen Louisiana sugar factories were using his invention. His invention was an important development in the growth of the sugar industry. In the 1850s, Rillieux presented a plan to the government of New Orleans to eliminate the moist breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that were causing a Yellow Fever outbreak. His plan was turned down. Several years later, as the Yellow Fever outbreak continued, the city accepted a plan from white engineers that was similar to the plan proposed by Rillieux. Rillieux returned to France in the late 1850s where he died October 8, 1894. A Children’s book, “Sugar Makes Sweet Norbert Rillieux Inventor,” was published in 1994.

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Today in Black History, 3/16/2013

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• March 16, 1827 Freedom’s Journal, the first African American-owned and operated newspaper in the United States, was published with the front page declaration that “We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us.” The paper was published by Samuel Cornish and John B. Russwurm until 1829. The journal was published weekly in New York City and provided international, national, and regional information on current events and contained editorials against slavery, lynching, and other injustices. It also published biographies of prominent African Americans and listings of births, deaths, and marriages in the New York City African American community. It circulated in 11 states, the District of Columbia, Haiti, Europe, and Canada.

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Today in Black History, 3/15/2013

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• March 15, 1809 Joseph Jenkins Roberts, the first President of the Republic of Liberia, was born in Norfolk, Virginia. In 1829, Roberts immigrated to Liberia with the American Colonization Society. He and his two brothers established a successful import and export business between the United States and Liberia. In 1833, Roberts became High Sheriff of the colony and in 1839 vice governor. On July 26, 1847, Liberia was declared independent and Roberts was elected the first president. He was re-elected three times, serving a total of eight years. During his tenure, Roberts expanded the borders of Liberia and attempted to integrate the indigenous people into the government. After losing the election of 1855, Roberts served the next 15 years as a major general in the Liberian army as well as diplomatic representative to France and Great Britain. He also helped to establish Liberia College and served as president from 1862 to 1876. Roberts was re-elected President of Liberia in 1872 and served in the office until his death February 24, 1876. Roberts left $10,000 and his estate to the Liberian education system. Roberts International Airport, the town of Robertsport, and Roberts Street in Monrovia are named in his honor. His image is depicted on the Liberian ten dollar bill and March 15 is a national holiday in Liberia.

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Today in Black History, 3/14/2013

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• March 14, 1882 Albert C. Richardson of South Frankfort, Michigan received patent number 255,022 for an improved hame fastener for harnesses. Richardson created several other devices that were completely unrelated to each other. He subsequently received patent numbers 446,470 February 17, 1891 for a butter churn, 529,311 November 13, 1894 for a casket lowering device, 620,362 February 22, 1899 for an insect destroyer, and 638,811 December 12, 1899 for an improvement in the design of the bottle. Not much else is known of Richardson’s life.

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Today in Black History, 3/13/2013

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• March 13, 1873 Joe Walcott (also known as Barbados Joe Walcott), hall of fame boxer, was born in Demerara, British Guyana. As a youngster, Walcott got a job as a cabin boy on a ship sailing to Boston, Massachusetts. After settling in Boston, he got a job at a gym and began boxing. Walcott made his professional debut in 1890 and won the World Welterweight Boxing Championship in 1901. He held the title until 1904. Walcott retired from boxing in 1911 with a record of 92 wins, 25 losses, and 24 draws. Walcott lost most of the money that he earned as a fighter and worked as a custodian until his death October 4, 1935. He was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.

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Today in Black History, 3/12/2013

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• March 12, 1864 Charles Young, the third African American graduate of West Point, was born in Mayslick, Kentucky. After graduating from high school, Young 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 superintendant of Sequoia and General Grant national parks, becoming the first black superintendant 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, promoted to colonel, and assigned as a military attaché to Liberia where he died January 8, 1922. In 1916, Young was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. 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 and the Colonel Charles Young House near Wilberforce was designated a National Historic Landmark May 30, 1974. 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).

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Today in Black History, 3/11/2013

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• March 11, 1884 William Eouard Scott, artist, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. Scott lived in Chicago, Illinois from 1904 to 1909 and trained at the School of the Art Institute. Later, he moved to Paris, France where he continued his education and was able to build a reputation from himself more easily than his race would have allowed in America. In 1931, he received a Rosenwald Foundation grant which allowed him to travel to Haiti “to paint those who had maintained their African heritage.” Two of his more famous paintings are “Night Turtle Fishing in Haiti” (1931) and “Haitian Market” (1950). Scott portrayed black people on canvas in positions of prominence doing noble deeds and through his paintings hoped to reverse the stereotypical perceptions of African Americans and eventually foster an understanding among the races. In addition to paintings, Scott did 75 murals, including “Douglass Appealing to President Lincoln” (1943) for the Recorder of Deeds Building in Washington, D.C. Scott died May 15, 1964. His work is in the collections of the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Wichita Art Museum.

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Today in Black History, 3/10/2013

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• March 10, 1849 Hallie Quinn Brown, educator, writer, and activist, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Brown earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Wilberforce University in 1873 and then taught at schools in Mississippi and South Carolina. From 1885 to 1887, she was dean of Allen University and from 1892 to 1893 lady principal of Tuskegee Institute. She became professor of elocution at Wilberforce in 1893 and frequently lectured on African American issues, the temperance movement, and women’s suffrage. Brown spoke in London, England at the International Woman’s Christian Temperance Union conference in 1895 and the International Congress of Women in 1899. Brown was a founder of the Colored Women’s League which in 1894 merged into the National Association of Colored Women. She served as president of the Ohio State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs from 1905 to 1912 and the National Association of Colored Women from 1920 to 1924. She also spoke at the Republican National Convention in 1924. Brown authored four books, “Bits and Odds: A Choice Selection of Recitations” (1880), “Elocution and Physical Culture” (1910), “First Lessons in Public Speaking” (1920), and “Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction” (1926). Brown died September 16, 1949 and the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center in St. Paul, Minnesota and the Hallie Q. Brown Memorial Library at Central State University are named in her honor.

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Today in Black History, 3/9/2013

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• March 9, 1841 The United States Supreme Court in United States v. Libellants and Claimants of the Schooner Amistad affirmed an 1840 federal court ruling that the Africans captured on the Amistad had been illegally transported across the Atlantic, because the international slave trade had been abolished, and therefore were not legally enslaved, but free. Furthermore, because they were illegally confined, the Africans were entitled to take what legal measures necessary to secure their freedom, including the use of force. The case resulted from a rebellion aboard the Amistad by a group of captives that had been kidnapped in Africa and sold into slavery. The Africans were later apprehended on the vessel Amistad near Long Island, New York by the U.S. Navy and taken into custody. In 1997, a film version of the events, “Amistad,” was released and in 2000 a replica of the Amistad was launched with the mission to educate the public on the history of slavery, discrimination, and civil rights. A statue of Cinque, the leader of the rebellion, was dedicated September 26, 1992 outside the City Hall building in New Haven, Connecticut. Books regarding the mutiny and trial include “Mutiny on the Amistad: The Saga of a Slave Revolt and its Impact on American Abolition, Law, and Diplomacy” (1987) and “The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom” (2012).

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Today in Black History, 3/8/2013

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• March 8, 1825 Alexander Thomas Augusta, surgeon, professor of medicine, and Civil War veteran, was born in Norfolk, Virginia. Augusta attempted to study medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, but was not allowed due to his race. Therefore, he enrolled at Trinity Medical College of the University of Toronto and in 1856 earned his Bachelor of Medicine degree. Augusta remained in Toronto and established his medical practice, supervised staff at Toronto General Hospital, directed an industrial school, and founded the Provincial Association for the Education and Elevation of the Colored People of Canada. In 1860, he returned to the United States and in 1863 received a major’s commission as surgeon for African American troops in the Union Army, making him the first African American physician and the highest ranking African American in the army. After the war, Augusta accepted an assignment with the Freedman’s Bureau, heading Lincoln Hospital. He also served on the staff of the Washington, D.C. Freedman’s Hospital from 1868 to 1877. Augusta died December 21, 1890 and was interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

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Today in Black History, 3/7/2013

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• March 7, 1897 Harriet Ann Jacobs, author and abolitionist speaker, died. Jacobs was born enslaved February 11, 1813 in Edenton, North Carolina. As a young woman, she was sexually harassed by her owner and by 1835 the situation had become so unbearable that she decided to escape. She did so by hiding in her grandmother’s small attic for seven years before escaping to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1842. In 1849, Jacobs moved to Rochester, New York where she joined the Anti-Slavery Society and became more politicized. In 1861, she published her autobiography, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” which was popular among abolitionist. During the Civil War, Jacobs worked in Alexandria, Virginia to help organize, feed, and shelter black people escaping slavery and the poor free black people of the region. On January 11, 1864 the Jacobs Free School was opened. Jacobs also contributed to the building of hospitals, churches, schools, and homes for newly freed black people.

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Today in Black History, 3/6/2013

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• March 6, 1857 The United States Supreme Court ruled in Dred Scott v. Sandford, commonly referred to as the Dred Scott decision, that people of African descent imported into the United States and enslaved, or their descendants, enslaved or free, were not protected by the Constitution and could never be citizens of the United States. It also ruled that because enslaved people were not citizens, they could not sue in court, that Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories and that enslaved people, as private property, could not be taken away from their owner without due process. “The Dred Scott Case: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Race and Law” (2010) provides a history of the case and its afterlife in American law and society.

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Today in Black History, 3/5/2013

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• March 5, 1770 Crispus Attucks, the first martyr of the American Revolution, was killed in the Boston Massacre. Attucks was born enslaved around 1723 and was of mixed African and Native American heritage. He escaped slavery in 1750 and by 1770 was a dockworker in Boston, Massachusetts. On the night of March 5, he led a group of sailors against British soldiers who were occupying Boston. Attucks was the first of four men shot and killed during the Boston Massacre. On November 14, 1888, a monument honoring Attucks was dedicated on Boston Common. As an African American patriot, Attucks represents the 5,000 African Americans who fought for America’s independence. In 1998, the United States Treasury issued The Black Revolutionary War Patriots Silver Dollar featuring Attucks’ image on one side. There are a number of schools around the country named for Attucks, including the Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis, Indiana, the Attucks Middle School in Hollywood, Florida, and the Crispus Attucks Elementary School in Kansas City, Missouri. Attucks’ 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, 3/4/2013

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• March 4, 1842 James Forten, abolitionist and businessman, died. Forten was born September 2, 1766 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the age of 15, he served on a ship during the Revolutionary War and invented a device to handle ship sails. In 1786, he started a very successful sailmaking company and became one of the wealthiest African Americans in post-colonial America. Forten, with the help of Rev. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, enlisted 2,500 African Americans to defend Philadelphia during the War of 1812. They also worked together to establish the Convention of Color in 1817. By the 1830s, Forten was one of the most powerful voices for people of color throughout the North. In 1833, he helped William Lloyd Garrison and Robert Purvis form the American Anti-Slavery Society and provided generous financial support to the organization over the years. When Forten died, he left behind an exemplary family, a sizable fortune, and a legacy of philanthropy and activism that inspired generations of black Philadelphians. On April 24, 1990, a historical marker was dedicated in his honor in Philadelphia and his biography, “A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten,” was published in 2002.

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Today in Black History, 3/3/2013

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• March 3, 1807 President Thomas Jefferson signed into law legislation to ban the importation of enslaved people effective January 1, 1808. While the law outlawed the importation of enslaved people to the United States, it did not end the buying and selling of enslaved people within the U.S. That would not occur until the end of the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865.

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