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Today in Black History, 12/13/2012

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• December 13, 1903 Ella Josephine Baker, civil and human rights activist, was born in Norfolk, Virginia. Baker graduated from Shaw University as class valedictorian in 1927 and moved to New York City. In 1931, she became the national director of the Young Negroes’ Cooperative League, which sought to develop black economic power through cooperative planning. In 1941, Baker was hired as secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and in 1943 was named director of branches. In 1957, Baker helped form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was the first staff person hired by the organization. In 1960, Baker resigned from SCLC and helped form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee where she served as mentor to many young people, including Julian Bond, Diane Nash, Stokely Carmichael, Bob Moses, and Bernice Johnson Reagon. From 1962 to 1967, Baker worked for the Southern Conference Education Fund which aimed to help black and white people work together for social justice. In 1964, she helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Baker remained an activist until her death on December 13, 1986. The 1981 documentary, “Fundi: The Story of Ella Baker,” revealed her important role in the Civil Rights Movement. In 2009, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor. The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, California and the Ella Baker School in New York City are named in her honor. Biographies of Baker include “Ella Baker: Freedom Bound” (1998) and “Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision” (2003).

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Today in Black History, 12/12/2012

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• December 12, 1882 Robert Morris, one of the first black lawyers in the United States, died. Morris was born June 8, 1823 in Salem, Massachusetts. He became the student of a well known abolitionist and lawyer and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1847. Shortly after starting his practice, Morris became the first black lawyer to file a lawsuit on behalf of a client in the U.S. The jury ruled in favor of Morris’ client. Morris was active in abolitionist causes and worked in opposition of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. He also filed the first U.S. civil rights challenge to segregated schools in the 1848 Roberts v. Boston case. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled against Morris in 1850. In the early 1850s, he was appointed a justice of the peace and was admitted to practice before U.S. district courts. When the Civil War began, Morris helped in the recruitment of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the first officially sanctioned African American unit in the U.S. Army, while also advocating for equal treatment of African American soldiers.

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Today in Black History, 12/11/2012

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• December 11, 1894 William B. Purvis of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania received patent number 530,650 for a Paper-Bag Machine which more perfectly formed the square bottom of paper bags. Purvis had previously received patent number 419,065 on January 7, 1890 for a fountain pen. That invention made the use of an ink bottle obsolete by storing ink in a reservoir within the pen which was then fed to the tip of the pen. Over his lifetime, Purvis received nine additional patents. He is also believed to have invented, but did not patent, several other devices. Not much else is known of Purvis’ life.

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Today in Black History, 12/10/2012

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• December 10, 1854 Edwin C. Berry, businessman, was born in Oberlin, Ohio, but raised in Athens, Ohio. Berry was often called the “Black Horatio Algier” because he erected a 22 room hotel which was one of the finest and most elegant hotels in Ohio. At the time of his retirement in 1921, he had a reputation as the most successful black small city hotel operator in the country. Berry, who was a member of the National Negro Business League and a trustee of Wilberforce University, died in 1931.

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Today in Black History, 12/9/2012

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• December 9, 1579 Saint Martin de Porres, Dominican lay brother, was born in Lima, Peru. At the age of 15, de Porres was admitted to the Dominican Convent of the Rosary as a servant boy. His piety and miraculous cures led his superiors to drop the racial limits on admission to the Order and he was made a full Dominican brother. At the age of 24, de Porres was given the habit of a coadjutor brother and assigned to the infirmary where many miracles were attributed to him. Although he never left Lima, many people around the world attributed their salvation to seeing him. By the time of his death on November 3, 1639, de Porres was known as a saint throughout the region. Martin de Porres was beatified in 1837 and canonized on May 6, 1962. Many buildings around the world are named after him, including Saint Martin de Porres High School in Detroit, Michigan. His biography, “St. Martin de Porres: Apostle of Charity,” was published in 1963.

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Today in Black History, 12/8/2012

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• December 8, 1868 Henry Hugh Proctor, author, lecturer, and clergyman, was born near Fayetteville, Tennessee. Proctor earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Fisk University in 1891, his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Yale University in 1894, and his Doctor of Divinity degree from Clark University in 1904. In 1903, he co-founded the National Convention of Congregational Workers Among Colored People and became its first president. The mission of the organization was to help black Congressional churches in the South become self-sufficient, employ more of their own graduates, promote Congregationalism among African Americans, and strengthen the theological departments of the schools in the American Missionary Association. Proctor was a strong believer in self-improvement and wanted to give the Atlanta African American community tools for improving their lives. In 1910, he founded the Atlanta Colored Music Festival Association which annually presented a concert based on the belief that music could ease racial animosity and promote racial harmony. Proctor authored “Between Black and White” in 1925 and died May 12, 1933.

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Today in Black History, 12/7/2012

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• December 7, 1859 John Merrick, entrepreneur and businessman, was born enslaved in Clinton, North Carolina. Merrick was freed after the Civil War and learned to read and write at a Reconstruction school. In 1880, he moved to Durham, North Carolina and opened a series of barbershops. The success of his barbershops and his community involvement made him prominent in both the white and black communities. In 1898, he co-founded the North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association “to relieve stress amongst poverty stricken segments of Durham’s Negro population.” The institution later changed its name to North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. Additionally, in 1901 Merrick served as president of Lincoln Hospital and helped establish Durham’s first African American bank, Mechanics and Farmers Bank, and drug store, Bull City Drugs. In 1910, Merrick co-founded Merrick-Moore-Spaulding Real Estate Company to provide property insurance for black property owners. The education of black children was a priority for Merrick. In addition to supporting rural schools and the College for Blacks (now North Carolina Central University), he helped open a public library for the black children of Durham. Just prior to his death on August 6, 1919, the insurance company changed its name to North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. The company continues in business today. Merrick’s biography, “John Merrick: A Biographical Sketch,” was published in 1920.

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Letter from the Chairperson & President

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Dear Friends:

Inspiring Minds: it’s not just the name of our newest permanent exhibit.  It’s also an extraordinarily apt description of what the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History does, day in and day out, for people of all ages and backgrounds.  Exploring the African American experience through the arts, humanities, law, literacy, science and health, The Wright Museum provides an array of aesthetic, interpretive, and intellectual opportunities to inspire visitors for a lifetime.

Over the past year, we have made great strides toward the exciting future to come.  These include:

•    Partnering with over 90 organizations including universities, cultural institutions, and the U.S. Department of Education to present an incredible diversity of programming including close to 200 educational and public events

•    Hosting 12 new exhibitions including Visions of Our 44th President, a groundbreaking collaboration with 44 contemporary artists from across the country that will be the Museum’s first national traveling exhibit

•    Our Camp Africa summer program that served 3,800 Detroit Public Schools students

•    The Jerry Pinkney Celebrity Children’s Book Fair, the success of which resulted in the awarding of an endowment by the Knight Foundation to fund this literacy program on an ongoing basis

At 125,000 square feet and with a collection of over 35,000 artifacts, The Wright Museum is the largest museum of African American history in the world.  But our impact goes far beyond our physical footprint.  We provide needed educational opportunities to thousands of children throughout the region, and serve over a half million people per year – locally, nationally, and internationally – through our exhibits, programs, websites, and events such as African World Festival, which celebrated its 30th year in 2012.  For the first time ever, AWF was held on the museum grounds.  

The Museum is a vital part of Michigan’s arts and cultural community, which in sum generates more than $2 billion dollars in economic activity annually for the State of Michigan.  We have taken a leadership role in the cultural resurgence of Detroit as a doorway for emerging artists in all disciplines – whether through our Contemporary Artists Program highlighting African American visual artists, or our hundreds of events, the Museum serves as a stage for musicians, dancers, poets, and performers of all cultural backgrounds who are taking the next step in their careers.

Over the next year, the Inspiring Minds exhibition will show thousands of children that with hard work and the will to succeed, their dreams can be attained.  Perhaps the next big scientific breakthrough in medicine, environmental protection, or consumer technology will find its seed in the galleries of The Wright Museum.

Furthermore, a father may be encouraged by his children to read to them by what they experience in our Children’s Discovery Room.  A graduate student can make a new connection for their thesis in our research library.  And a young couple will start a new life together with vows said under the Ford Freedom Rotunda dome.

These things we do, and will continue to, for children, parents, seniors, performing artists, budding scientists, all people, the rich and the poor – Inspiring Minds, for what comes next, by understanding what came before: fostering context; encouraging contemplation; and enabling creation, understanding, and cooperation.

Thank you, as always, for your continued support and dedication.

Very truly yours,


Elizabeth (“Betty”) Brooks
Chairperson, Board of Trustees


Juanita Moore
President & CEO

Click here to download the 2012 Annual Report

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Today in Black History, 12/6/2012

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• December 6, 1865 The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted. The amendment officially abolished and continues to prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. This completed the abolition of the institution of slavery that had begun with the Emancipation Proclamation issued in 1863.

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Today in Black History, 12/5/2012

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• December 5, 1775 A petition signed by fourteen white officers was issued to the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony recognizing the exemplary service of Salem Poor at the Battle of Bunker Hill. The petition stated that he had “behaved like an experienced officer” and that in Poor “centers a brave and gallant soldier.” Not much is known of Poor’s life except that he was born enslaved in Andover, Massachusetts and bought his freedom in 1769. In 1775, he enlisted in the Continental Army and fought at Bunker Hill, Monmouth, and Saratoga. He was one of approximately 5,000 African Americans that fought for the patriots in the Revolutionary War. Little is known of Poor’s post-war life. In 1975, Poor was honored by the United States Postal Service with a commemorative postage stamp in the “Contributors to the Cause” series.

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Today in Black History, 12/4/2012

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• December 4, 1807 Prince Hall, the founder of “Black Freemasonry,” died. Hall was born September 14, 1735 in Barbados. Not much is known of his youth and how he ended up in Boston, Massachusetts. It is known that he was a property owner and a registered voter and that he worked as an abolitionist and civil rights activist. He fought for laws to protect black people from kidnapping by slave traders and campaigned for schools for black children. On March 6, 1775, Hall and fourteen other free black men were initiated into Military Lodge No. 441, a Lodge attached to the British Army. When the British Army left, on July 3, 1776 the Black Masons were granted a dispensation for limited operations as African Lodge No. 1 which then served as mother lodge to new black lodges in other cities. In 1791, Black Freemasons formed the African Grand Lodge of North America and unanimously elected Hall Grand Master, a position that he held until his death. The African Grand Lodge was later renamed the Prince Hall Grand Lodge in his honor. Hall’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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Today in Black History, 12/3/2012

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• December 3, 1866 John Swett Rock, teacher, doctor, dentist, lawyer, and abolitionist, died. Rock was born October 13, 1825 in Salem, New Jersey. He taught school in New Jersey from 1844 to 1848 and while teaching, studied medicine. In 1850, he opened a dental practice and in 1852 graduated from American Medical College. In 1851, he received a silver medal for the creation of an improved variety of artificial teeth. Rock was a passionate abolitionist and civil rights leader and was known as one of the most brilliant speakers in the anti-slavery movement. In 1860, he gave up his dental and medical practices and began to study law. He gained admittance to the Massachusetts Bar in 1861 and in 1865 became the first black person admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. In 1863, Rock helped assemble the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the first officially recognized African American unit in the Union Army during the Civil War.

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Today in Black History, 12/2/2012

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• December 2, 1866 Henry Thacker “Harry” Burleigh, classical composer, arranger, and professional singer, was born in Erie, Pennsylvania. Burleigh was trained at the National Conservatory of Music in New York City and began his professional singing career as a soloist for the all-white St. George’s Episcopal Church where he sang until 1946. In 1900, he also became the only black member of the synagogue choir at the Temple Emanu-El. In the late 1890s, Burleigh began to publish his own arrangements and compositions and by the late 1910s was one of America’s best known composers. Over his career, Burleigh wrote 265 vocal works and made 187 choral arrangements of African American spirituals. He was a charter member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 1914. In 1917, Burleigh was awarded the NAACP Springarn Medal. Burleigh died December 12, 1949. His biography, “Hard Trials: The Life and Music of Harry T. Burleigh,” was published in 1990.

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Today in Black History, 12/1/2012

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• December 1, 1874 Turner Byrd, Jr. of Williamsville, Michigan received patent number 157,370 for an improvement in railcar couplings. Byrd’s invention provided a means of uncoupling railcars without the necessity of an individual going between the cars. Byrd had previously received patent number 123,328 on February 6, 1872 for an improved harness rein holder, patent number 124,790 on March 19, 1872 for an improved apparatus for detaching horses from carriages, and patent number 126,181 on April 30, 1872 for an improved neck-yoke for wagons. Not much else is known of Byrd’s life.

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Today in Black History, 11/30/2012

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• November 30, 1875 Alexander P. Ashbourne of Oakland, California received patent number 170,460 for an improved biscuit-cutter. Prior to his invention, cooks would roll and shape their biscuits by hand. His invention consisted of a board to roll the biscuit dough out which was hinged to a metal plate with various biscuit cutter shapes mounted to it. The plate was brought down on the dough creating many biscuit shapes at once. The cutters were spring-loaded, allowing the biscuit shapes to be easily released. Additionally, Ashbourne received patent number 163,962 for a process for refining coconut oil on June 1, 1875, patent number 194,287 for a process for treating coconut on August 21, 1877, and patent number 230,518 for a process for preparing coconut on 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, 11/29/2012

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• November 29, 1887 Granville T. Woods of Cincinnati, Ohio was granted patent number 373,915 for the synchronous multiplex railway telegraph. His invention allowed communication between train stations from moving trains. Woods was born April 23, 1856 in Columbus, Ohio and dedicated his life to developing a variety of improvements related to the railroad industry and controlling the flow of electricity. In addition to the synchronous multiplex railway telegraph, Woods received approximately 60 other patents and was known to many people of his time as the “Black Thomas Edison.” Woods died January 30, 1910. The Granville T. Woods Math and Science Community Academy in Chicago, Illinois is named in his honor.

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Today in Black History, 11/28/2012

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• November 28, 1868 William Henry Lewis, college hall of fame football player and coach, lawyer, and politician, was born in Berkley, Virginia, but raised in Portsmouth, Virginia. Lewis played football at Amherst College, and is thought to have been the first African American college football player, where he was the team captain in 1891 and graduated in 1892 as the class orator. He then attended Harvard Law School where he also played football and was named All-American in 1892 and 1893, the first African American All-American. Lewis earned his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1895 and then coached the Harvard football team from 1895 to 1906, compiling a record of 114 wins, 15 losses, and 5 ties. In 1896, he published one of the first books on football titled “A Primer of College Football.” He was elected to the Cambridge, Massachusetts City Council where he served from 1899 to 1902 and was appointed to the Massachusetts legislature for one year in 1903. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Lewis an Assistant United States Attorney, the first African American to hold that position, and in 1910 President William Howard Taft appointed him United States Assistant Attorney General which was reported as “the highest office in an executive branch of the government ever held by a member of that race.” In 1911, Lewis became the first African American admitted to the American Bar Association. Lewis was outspoken on issues of race and discrimination, calling for “an army of Negro lawyers of strong hearts, cool heads, and sane judgment, to help the large number of Negroes who are exploited, swindled and misused.” In 1919, Lewis was one of the signatories to a call for a National Conference on Lynching. Lewis died January 1, 1949 and was posthumously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009. A Virginia Historical Marker commemorating his life is located in Norfolk, Virginia.

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Today in Black History, 11/27/2012

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• November 27, 1891 John Denny was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, for his actions during the Indian Wars. Denny was born around 1846 in Big Flats, New York. He joined the United States Army and served as a sergeant in Company C of the 9th Cavalry Regiment (Buffalo Soldiers). On September 18, 1879 at Las Animas Canyon, New Mexico his unit was involved in battle when Denny’s actions earned him the medal. His citation reads, “removed a wounded comrade, under a heavy fire, to a place of safety.” Not much else is know of Denny’s life except that he died November 26, 1901.

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Today in Black History, 11/26/2012

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• November 26, 1878 Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor, world champion cyclist, was born in rural Indiana. At the age of thirteen, Taylor was hired to perform cycling stunts outside a bicycle shop while wearing a soldier’s uniform, hence the nickname” Major.” Taylor was banned from bicycle racing in Indiana because of his race and therefore moved to the East Coast. In 1886, he entered his first professional race in Madison Square Garden and won. Over his career, he raced in the United States, Australia, and Europe, including winning the world one mile track cycling championship in 1899 and becoming known as “The Black Cyclone.” Although he was celebrated in Europe, Taylor’s career was held back in the United States and he retired in 1910, saying he was tired of the racism. Although he was reported to earn between $25,000 and $30,000 a week while racing, Taylor died a pauper on June 21, 1932. In 1948, a monument to his memory was erected in Worcester, Massachusetts and Indianapolis, Indiana named the city’s bicycle track the Major Taylor Velodrome. Nike markets a sports shoe called the Major Taylor. Taylor published his autobiography, “Autobiography: The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World,” in 1929.

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Today in Black History, 11/25/2012

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• November 25, 1874 Joe Gans, the first American born African American to win a world boxing championship, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. Gans started boxing in 1891 in “battle royals.” These were matches where several young black men were blindfolded and put in a ring to fight until there was one winner. In 1902, Gans won the World Lightweight Boxing Championship and held the title until 1908. He retired in 1909 with a career record of 145 wins, 10 losses, and 16 draws. Gans died August 10, 1910 and was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. Biographies include “Joe Gans: A Biography of the First African American World Boxing Champion” (2008) and “The Longest Fight: In the Ring with Joe Gans, Boxing’s First African American Champion” (2012).

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