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Today in Black History 04/17/2015 | Willi Smith

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April 17, 1987 Willi Donnell Smith, one of the most successful young fashion designers in fashion history, died. Smith was born February 29, 1948 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He attended Philadelphia College of Art for fashion illustration and then moved to New York City to attend Parsons School of Design. He quit Parsons in 1967 to pursue a design career on his own. Smith founded a company called Williwear in 1976. He won the American Fashion Critic’s Award for women’s fashion in 1983 and won a Cutty Sark Award for men’s fashion in 1985. At the time of his death, his company was selling $25 million worth of clothing a year.

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Today in Black History, 04/16/2015

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April 16, 1864 Robert Blake became the first African American to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration. On December 25, 1863, Blake was serving on the USS Marblehead during the Civil War when it came under attack by Confederate guns. Although he had no assigned combat role and could have retreated to safety below deck, when an exploding shell knocked him down and killed a powder boy manning one of the guns, Blake took over the powder boy’s duties running powder boxes to the gun loaders. For his actions, Blake was awarded the medal. His citation partially reads, “Serving the rifle gun, Blake, an escaped slave, carried out his duties bravely throughout the engagement which resulted in the enemy’s abandonment of positions, leaving a caisson and one gun behind.” Little is known of Blake’s life other than he was born enslaved in South Santee, South Carolina. In 1862, his owner’s plantation was burned down by the Union Navy and he and 400 other enslaved people were taken as contraband and Blake volunteered to serve in the Union Navy.
 

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Today in Black History, 04/15/2015

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April 15, 1947 Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson became the first African American major league baseball player in the modern era when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson was born January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia. After graduating from Pasadena Junior College in 1939, he transferred to the University of California at Los Angeles where he became the school’s first athlete win varsity letters in four sports, baseball, basketball, football, and track. He served as a first lieutenant in the United States Army from 1942 to 1945. Over his ten season major league career, he won the Rookie of the Year Award, the 1949 National League Most Valuable Player Award, and was selected to six consecutive All-Star teams. Robinson retired in 1956 and that same year was awarded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame July 23, 1962, the first African American to be inducted. Robinson died October 24, 1972. Major League Baseball renamed the Rookie of the Year Award the Jackie Robinson Award in 1987 and permanently retired his uniform number 42 in 1997. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1982. Robinson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Ronald W. Reagan March 26, 1984. He was posthumously inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. Major League Baseball has recognized April 15 as Jackie Robinson Day at all of their ballparks since 2004. Robinson published his autobiography, “I Never Had It Made,” in 1972. There are numerous other books about Robinson, including “Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy” (1983) and “Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America” (2004). The Jackie Robinson Foundation was founded in 1973 and has provided college scholarships worth more than $22 million to more than 1,400 students. Robinson’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, 04/14/2015

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April 14, 1927 John Wesley Cromwell, historian, educator and lawyer, died. Cromwell was born enslaved September 5, 1846 in Portsmouth, Virginia. After his father gained the family’s freedom, Cromwell graduated from the Institute for Colored Youth (now Cheney University) in 1864. He graduated from Howard University Law School in 1873 and was admitted to the District of Columbia bar the next year. In 1876, he founded the weekly paper The People’s Advocate. Cromwell became the first African American lawyer to argue a case before the Interstate Commerce Commission when he served as counsel for the plaintiff in William H. Heard v. Georgia Railroad Company December 22, 1887. A gifted organizer, Cromwell helped organize the Virginia Educational and Historical Association and the National Colored Press Association. He was a founder of the Bethel Literary and Historical Association in 1897 and was a founding member of the American Negro Academy, an organization created to stimulate and demonstrate intellectual capabilities among African Americans. Cromwell published his most influential work, “The Negro in American History: Men and Women Eminent in the Evolution of the American of African Descent,” in 1914 and it influenced Carter G. Woodson to found the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History the following year. Cromwell also published “The First Negro Churches in The District of Columbia” in 1917. “Unveiled Voices, Unvarnished Memories: The Cromwell Family in Slavery and Segregation, 1692 – 1972” was published in 2006.

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Today in Black History, 04/13/2015

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April 13, 1964 Sidney Poitier became the first Black man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the movie “Lilies of the Field.” Poitier was born February 20, 1927 in Miami, Florida. He moved to New York City at 17 and joined the American Negro Theater. He made his film debut in “No Way Out” (1950) but his breakout role was in “Blackboard Jungle” (1955). Poitier acted in the first production of “A Raisin in the Sun” on Broadway in 1959 and starred in the film version in 1961. Other films in which he has appeared include “The Defiant Ones” (1958), “A Patch of Blue” (1965), “In the Heat of the Night” (1967), and “The Jackal” (1997). He has also directed a number of films, including “Buck and the Preacher” (1972), “Stir Crazy” (1980), and “Ghost Dad” (1990). He has also written three autobiographies, “This Life” (1980), “The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography” (2000), and “Life Beyond Measure – Letters to My Great-Granddaughter” (2008). Poitier was appointed ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan in 1997. He received an honorary award from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in 2002 “in recognition of his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being.” He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, by President Barack H. Obama August 12, 2009. The documentary “Sidney Poitier: an Outsider in Hollywood” was released in 2008. Poitier published a novel, “Montaro Caine,” in 2013.

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Today in Black History, 04/12/2015

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  • April 12, 1981 Joe Louis, hall of fame boxer known as the Brown Bomber, died. Louis was born Joseph Louis Barrow 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 a record of 50 wins and 4 losses. Louis turned professional in 1934 and won the Associated Press’ 1935 Athlete of the Year Award. He won the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship in 1937 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. He was awarded the Legion of Merit medal in 1945 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 was very generous with that. He retired for good in 1951 with a record of 65 wins and 3 losses. Louis was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1982. A monument to Louis was dedicated in Detroit October 16, 1986 and he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. Joe Louis Arena in Detroit is named in his honor. He became the first boxer to be honored with a commemorative postage stamp by the United States Postal Service in 1993 and an 8 foot bronze statue of him was unveiled in La Fayette February 27, 2010. Louis was named the greatest heavyweight of all time by the International Boxing Research Organization. He published his autobiography, “Joe Louis: My Life,” in 1978. Other biographies 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.
  • April 12, 1989 Sugar Ray Robinson, hall of fame boxer, died. Robinson was born Walker Smith, Jr. May 3, 1921 in Detroit, Michigan but raised in New York City. He began boxing at 14 and finished his amateur career with a record of 85 wins and no losses. Robinson made his 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 the World Welterweight Boxing Championship in 1946. 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 Ring Magazine named him Fighter of the Decade for the 1950s in 1997. Robinson was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2006. 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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Today in Black History, 04/11/2015

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  • April 11, 1881 Spelman College, the oldest historically Black college for females, was founded as the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary by two teachers from Massachusetts with 11 students and $100. The school relocated to a nine acre site in 1883 and John D. Rockefeller provided funding to retire the debt on the property in 1884. The name of the school was changed to Spelman Seminary in honor of Rockefeller’s wife. Sophia B. Packard was appointed the first of Spelman’s nine presidents in 1888. The school became Spelman College in 1924, it became part of the Atlanta University Center in 1929, and it was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 1932. Today, the campus consists of 26 buildings on 39 acres with 2,400 students and 175 faculty members. Notable alumnae include Pearl Cleage, Marian Wright Edelman, Bernice Johnson Regon, and Alice Walker.
     
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Today in Black History, 04/10/2015

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  • April 10, 1975 Robert Lee Elder became the first African American to play in the Masters Golf Tournament. Elder was born July 14, 1934 in Dallas, Texas. He dropped out of high school and worked as a caddy where he developed his game by watching his clients. He was drafted into the United States Army in 1959 and served until 1961. After his discharge, he joined the United Golf Association Tour for Black golfers where he won 18 of 22 tournaments. Elder gained his Professional Golf Association tour card in 1968 and won his first PGA tournament in 1974. That came at the Monsanto Open in Pensacola, Florida where Elder and other Black players had to change their clothes in the parking lot because the club members would not allow non-White people into the clubhouse. The win gained him entry into the 1975 Masters Tournament. Leading up to the tournament, Elder received a substantial amount of hate mail and threats. Elder became the first African American to qualify to play in the Ryder Cup in 1979 and he joined the Senior PGA Tour in 1984. Over his career, Elder has won four PGA tournaments and eight senior tournaments. He established the Lee Elder Scholarship Fund in 1974 to offer financial aid to low-income men and women seeking college assistance. He has actively promoted summer youth golf development programs and raised money for the United Negro College Fund.
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Today in Black History, 04/09/2015

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  • April 9, 1939 Marian Anderson performed her critically acclaimed concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience of millions. She performed there, with the aid of President and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, because the Daughters of the American Revolution refused permission for her to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall. Anderson was born February 27, 1897 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She began singing at local functions for small change at six and got her first break in 1925 when she won a singing contest sponsored by the New York Philharmonic. Anderson became the first Black person to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in 1955 and sang at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. She also sang for President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inauguration in 1957 and President John F. Kennedy’s in 1961. She published her autobiography, “My Lord, What a Morning,” in 1956. Anderson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Lyndon B. Johnson December 6, 1963. The recipient of numerous other awards and honors, she received the 1939 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal, the Congressional Gold Medal in 1977, Kennedy Center Honors in 1978, the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, from President Ronald W. Reagan July 14, 1986, and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991. Anderson died April 8, 1993. Later that year, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor. The 1939 documentary film “Marian Anderson: The Lincoln Memorial Concert” was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2001 as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” A number of biographies about Anderson have been published, including “Marian Anderson: A Singer’s Journey” (2002) and “The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights” (2004). Anderson’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, 04/08/2015

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  • April 8, 1946 Robert L. Johnson, hall of fame businessman and the first African American billionaire, was born in Hickory, Mississippi but raised in Freeport, Illinois. Johnson earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Illinois in 1968 and his Master of Public Administration degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University in 1972. From 1977 to 1979, he served as a vice president at the National Cable Television Association. Johnson and his wife launched Black Entertainment Television in 1980, the first cable television network aimed at African Americans. They sold the network for $3 billion in 2000. After selling BET, Johnson started RLJ Companies, a diverse portfolio of companies in the financial services, real estate, hospitality, professional sports, film production, automotive, and gaming industries. This included a majority ownership of the National Basketball Association’s Charlotte Bobcats, the first Black principal owner of a North American major league sports franchise. Johnson sold his stake in the Bobcats in 2010. He serves on the boards of KB Homes, Lowe’s Companies, and Strayer Education. Johnson was inducted into the Junior Achievement U. S. Business Hall of Fame in 2008.
     
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Today in Black History, 04/07/2015

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 TODAY IN BLACK HISTORY

April 7

  • April 7, 1803 Francois-Dominique Toussaint L’Ouverture, Haitian patriot and revolutionary leader, died. Toussaint was born enslaved May 20, 1743 in Saint-Domingue, Hispaniola (now Haiti). Toussaint’s master recognized his superior intelligence at an early age and taught him French, gave him duties which allowed him to educate himself, and freed him at 33. Beginning in 1791, Toussaint led enslaved Black people in a long struggle for independence from French colonizers. Toussaint was the dominant figure in Haiti by 1796 and tried to rebuild the collapsed economy and reestablish commercial contacts with the United States and Britain. However, he was kidnapped by the French in 1802 and died in a French prison. 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) 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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Today in Black History, 4/5/2015

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• April 5, 1824 Moses Dickson, abolitionist and minister, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Dickson and twelve other men formed a secret organization known as the Knights of Liberty in 1846 to initiate a national insurrection against slavery. By 1856, they supposedly had more than 47,000 members throughout the nation ready to fight for freedom. Because of the Civil War, the organization disbanded and many of the members joined the Union Army. Dickson became an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1866. He became Grand Master of the Prince Hall Masons for the state of Missouri in 1871. Dickson also organized the self-help group the Knights and Daughters of Tabor. When previously enslaved Black people started to migrate from the South, Dickson formed and served as president of the Refugee Relief Board which provided aid and support to the migrants. Dickson died November 28, 1901.

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Today in Black History: TEMPORARILY DOWN

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Today in Black History, 3/28/2015

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• March 28, 1829 The last edition of Freedom’s Journey, the first African American owned and operated newspaper in the United States, was published. Freedom’s Journey was first published March 16, 1827 with the front page declaration that “We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us, too long has the public been deceived by misrepresentations. We deem it expedient to establish a paper and bring into operation all the means with which our benevolent creator has endowed us, for the moral, religious, civil and literary improvements in our race.” The paper was founded by Peter Williams, Jr. and edited by Samuel Cornish and John B. Russwurm. The paper 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, 3/27/2015

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• March 27, 1905 Leroy Carr, hall of fame blues singer, pianist and songwriter, was born in Nashville, Tennessee but raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. Carr served in the United States Army in the early 1920s. Carr was one of the first Northern bluesmen and recorded his first release, “How Long, How Long Blues,” in 1928 and it was an immediate success. Throughout the early 1930s, Carr was one of the most popular bluesmen and although his career was short, he left behind a large body of work, including “Blues Before Sunrise” (1934) and “When the Sun Goes Down” (1935). Carr died April 29, 1935. HIs vocal style influenced Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, and Jimmy Witherspoon, among others. Carr was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1982.

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Today in Black History, 3/26/2015

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• March 26, 1831 Richard Allen, minister, educator and founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, died. Allen was born enslaved February 14, 1760 in Germantown, Pennsylvania. He taught himself to read and write and bought his freedom http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/ff/Richard_Allen_crop.jpgand that of his brother in 1777. Allen joined the Methodist Society at an early age and was qualified as a preacher in 1784. He began to preach at St. George’s United Methodist Church in 1786. However due to the church’s segregationist policies, he and Absalom Jones led the Black members out of the church in 1787 to form the Free African Society, a non-denominational mutual aid society. Also that year, Allen purchased a lot that became the site of Bethel AME Church which was dedicated July 29, 1794. That lot is now the site of Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and is the oldest parcel of real estate in the United States continuously owned by Black people. Allen founded the independent denomination of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816, the first fully independent denomination in the United States, and was elected its first bishop. From 1797 to his death, Allen operated a station on the Underground Railroad for people escaping slavery. Allen published his autobiography, “The Life Experience and Gospel Labors of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen: To Which Is Annexed the Rise and Progress of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States,” in 1800. “Richard Allen: Apostle of Freedom” was published in 1935. Allen’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, 3/25/2015

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• March 25, 1890 Jan Earnst Matzeliger of Lynn, Massachusetts posthumously received patent number 423,937 for a tack separating and distributing mechanism. His invention improved the mechanism whereby tacks are received in bulk and separated and distributed one at a time at intervals. Matzeliger was born September 15, 1852 in Paramaribo, Dutch Guyana (now Suriname). After working as a sailor, he settled in the United States at 19. By 1877, he had moved to Lynn, Massachusetts and was working for a cobbler. After five years of work, he received patent number 274,207 March 20, 1883 for his automatic method for lasting shoes. His machine could produce shoes ten times faster than working by hand and resulted in more than a 50% reduction in the cost of shoes. Matzeliger never saw the profits of his invention due to his death August 24, 1889. He also posthumously received patent numbers 415,726 for a mechanism for distributing tacks and nails November 26, 1889, 421,954 for a nailing machine February 25, 1890, and 459,899 for a lasting machine September 22, 1891. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1991 and he was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006. “Shoes for Everyone: A Story about Jan Matzeliger” was published in 1986.

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Today in Black History, 3/24/2015

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• March 24, 1896 Lewis H. Latimer of New York City received patent number 557,076 for a Locking Rack for hats, coats, umbrellas and other articles. His invention securely held these items and only allowed the person to whom they belonged to remove them. Latimer was born September 4, 1848 in Chelsea, Massachusetts. He joined the United States Navy at 15 and after receiving an honorable discharge joined a patent law firm as a draftsman at 17. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell employed Latimer to draft the drawings required to receive a patent for Bell’s telephone. Although Thomas Edison is credited with the invention of the lightbulb, Latimer made significant contributions to its further development. He received patent number 252,386 January 17, 1882 for the Process of Manufacturing Carbons, an improved method for the production of carbon filaments for lightbulbs. In total, Latimer received seven patents before his death December 11, 1928. He was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006 and Lewis H. Latimer School in Brooklyn, New York is named in his honor. His biography, “Lewis Latimer: Bright Ideas,” was published in 1997. Latimer’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, 3/23/2015

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• March 23, 1928 Channing E. Phillips, minister, social activist and the first African American placed in nomination for President of the United States by a major party, was born in Brooklyn, New York. Phillips was a founding member of the Coalition of Conscience, a conglomeration of local organizations working to alleviate social problems in Washington, D. C. He led the D. C. delegation to the 1968 Democratic National Convention and after the death of Robert F. Kennedy Phillips was nominated as a favorite son candidate August 28, 1968 and received 68 votes. Phillip said that his candidacy was meant to show that “the Negro vote must not be taken for granted.” Phillips was also the president of the Housing Development Corporation, a government backed housing venture in the capital. Phillips died November 11, 1987.

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Today in Black History, 3/22/2015

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• March 22, 1892 Dox Thrash, painter and printmaker, was born in Griffen, Georgia. Thrash moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1911 to study at the Art Institute of Chicago. He joined the United States Army in 1917 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. Thrash moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1926 and 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. The Philadelphia Museum of Art presented a major retrospective of his work, featuring over 100 drawings, watercolors, and prints, in 2002.

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