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Today in Black History, 5/14/2014

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• May 14, 1861 Alfred Oscar Coffin, the first African American to earn a Ph. D. in the biological sciences, was born in Pontotoc, Mississippi. Coffin earned his bachelor’s degree from Fisk University in 1885 and his Ph. D. in biology from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1889. From 1887 to 1898, he taught at Alcorn A&M College and Wiley University. From 1898 to 1909, he was a public school principal in Texas and Missouri. He ended his teaching career as a romance language professor at Langston University. Coffin published two books, “Origin of the Mound Builders” in 1889 and “Land Without Chimneys, Or The Byways of Mexico” in 1896, the first significant book on Latin America published by an African American. Coffin died in 1933.

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Today in Black History, 5/13/2014

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• May 13, 1831 Edward Park Duplex, the first African American mayor in the western United States, was born in New Haven, Connecticut. In 1854, Duplex moved to Marysville, California where he became a prominent business and civic leader. In 1855, he was a representative to the first California Colored Citizens Convention and the following year served on the convention’s executive committee. In 1875, Duplex moved to Wheatland, California where he established a successful hair care business. On April 11, 1888 the Wheatland Board of Trustees elected Duplex Mayor of Wheatland. Duplex died January 5, 1900. The building that housed his business still stands today. The “History of Yuba and Sutter Counties” named Duplex as “a man who helped make Wheatland.”

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Today in Black History, 5/12/2014

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• May 12, 1906 William “Gorilla” Jones, hall of fame boxer, was born in Memphis, Tennessee. Jones started boxing professionally in 1923 and won the World Middleweight Boxing Championship in 1925. He retired in 1940 with a record of 101 wins, 24 losses, and 13 draws. After retiring, he served as a chauffeur and bodyguard for the movie star Mae West and from the late 1940s to the 1970s trained other boxers. Jones died January 4, 1982. He was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2009.

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Today in Black History, 5/11/2014

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• May 11, 1895 William Grant Still, “the dean” of African American classical composers, was born in Woodville, Mississippi but raised in Little Rock, Arkansas. Still started taking violin lessons at 15 and taught himself to play a number of other instruments. Still attended Wilberforce University where he conducted the university band and started to compose. He also studied at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. After serving in the United States Navy during World War I, he worked as an arranger for W. C. Handy and later played in the pit orchestra for the musical “Shuffle Along.” In 1934, Still was the recipient of the first Guggenheim Fellowship. On July 23, 1936, he conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, the first African American to conduct a major American orchestra. On March 31, 1949, his opera “Troubled Island” (1939) was performed by the New York City Opera, the first opera by an African American to be performed by a major opera company. Despite selling out the first three nights and receiving 22 curtain calls on opening night, the opera was shut down, never to be staged again. “Just Tell the Story: Troubled Island” (2006) delves into some of the reason why. Still eventually moved to Los Angeles, California where he arranged music for films, including “Pennies from Heaven” (1936) and “Lost Horizon” (1937). He received honorary doctorate degrees from a number of institutions, including Oberlin College, Howard University, the New England Conservatory of Music, and the University of Southern California. Still died December 3, 1978. On June 15, 1981, his opera “A Bayou Legend” became the first opera by an African American to be performed on national television when it premiered on PBS. His biography, “In One Lifetime: A Biography of William Grant Still,” was published in 1984.

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Today in Black History, 5/10/2014

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• May 10, 1815 Henry Walton Bibb, author and abolitionist, was born enslaved in Shelby County, Kentucky. In 1837, Bibb escaped to Cincinnati, Ohio but was captured when he returned to free his wife. In 1842, he escaped to Detroit, Michigan. After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required Northerners to cooperate in the capture of previously enslaved people, Bibb moved to Windsor, Canada. In 1851, he established the first Black newspaper in Canada, “The Voice of the Fugitive.” The paper promoted the abolitionist movement and provided information to parties on the Underground Railroad. Bibb and his wife also helped establish the Refugee Home Society which created settlements and assisted previously enslaved Black people who escaped to Canada. Bibb published his autobiography, “Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave,” in 1848. Bibb died August 1, 1854.

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Today in Black History, 5/9/2014

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• May 9, 1919 James Reese Europe, ragtime and jazz bandleader, arranger and composer, died. Europe was born February 22, 1881 in Mobile, Alabama and moved to New York City in 1904. In 1910, Europe organized the Clef Club, a society for African Americans in the music industry. In 1912, they made history as the first band to play proto-jazz at Carnegie Hall when they played a concert for the benefit of the Colored Music Settlement School. The band played music written solely by Black composers. In 1913 and 1914, Europe made a series of recordings that are some of the best examples of the pre-jazz ragtime style of the 1910s. During World War I, Europe saw combat as a lieutenant with the Harlem Hellfighters and went on to direct the regimental band to great acclaim. After his return to the United States in 1919, he stated “I have come from France more firmly convinced than ever that Negros should write Negro music. We have our own racial feelings and if we try to copy Whites we will make bad copies.” At the time of his death, Europe was the best known African American bandleader in the U. S. and was granted the first ever public funeral for an African American in New York City. His biography, “A Lifetime in Ragtime: A Biography of James Reese Europe,” was published in 1995.

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Today in Black History, 5/8/2014

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• May 8, 1753 Phillis Wheatley, the first African American woman to have her work published, was born in Senegal, West Africa. Wheatley was enslaved at seven. She was tutored by her owners and learned to read and write. In 1773, her book “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral” was published in London, England and immediately brought her fame. As a result of her fame, she was emancipated by her owners and went on to publish other poems. Wheatley died December 5, 1784. Today there is a building named in her honor at the University of Massachusetts and a statue of her is one of three included in the Boston Women’s Memorial unveiled October 25, 2003. Her biography, “Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley, a Native African and Slave,” was published in 1834. In 2012, Robert Morris University named their School of Communications and Information Systems building in her honor. Wheatley’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, 5/7/2014

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• May 7, 1845 Mary Eliza Mahoney, hall of fame nurse and the first African American registered nurse in the United States, was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Mahoney worked at the New England Hospital for Women and Children for fifteen years before being accepted into its nursing school. On August 1, 1879, Mahoney earned her nursing degree. In 1908, she co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses and from 1911 to 1912 served as director of the Howard Orphan Asylum for Black Children. Mahoney was also a strong advocate for women’s equality and women’s suffrage. In 1920, she was one of the first women in Boston, Massachusetts to register to vote. Mahoney died January 4, 1926. She was posthumously inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame in 1976 and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993. The Mary Mahoney Award is bestowed biennially by the ANA in recognition of significant contributions in advancing equal opportunity in nursing for minority groups. The Mary Eliza Mahoney Dialysis Center in Boston and the Mary Mahoney Lecture Series at Indiana University are named in her honor.

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Today in Black History, 5/6/2014

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• May 6, 1812 Martin Robinson Delany, abolitionist and the first African American field officer in the United States Army, was born in Charles Town, West Virginia. Because it was illegal to teach Black people to read or write, he and his siblings taught themselves. In 1835, Delany became more actively involved in political matters and attended his first Negro Conference. In 1843, he began publishing “The Mystery,” a Black controlled newspaper, and on December 3, 1847, together with Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, began publishing the “North Star” newspaper. In the 1850s, Delany became convinced that White people would not allow deserving persons of color to become leaders in society and in his book, “The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Politically Considered” (1852), argued that Black people had no future in the United States and should leave and found a new nation elsewhere. In 1863, Delany began recruiting Black men for the Union Army to fight in the Civil War, raising thousands of enlistees, and in 1865 was commissioned as a major, the first Black field officer in the U. S. Army. Following the war and the demise of the Reconstruction Period, Delany helped form the Liberia Exodus Joint Stock Steamship Company with the intent to immigrate to Africa. However, he had to withdraw from the project due to family obligations. Delany died January 24, 1885. His biography, “Martin R. Delany: The Beginnings of Black Nationalism,” was published in 1971.

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Today in Black History, 5/5/2014

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• May 5, 1883 Josiah Henson, author, abolitionist and minister, died. Henson was born enslaved June 15, 1789 in Charles County, Maryland. In 1830, after trying to buy his freedom and being cheated out of his money, Henson escaped with his wife and children to Canada. After arriving in Ontario, he founded The Dawn Settlement and a laborer’s school for other previously enslaved fugitives. The settlement prospered, reaching a population of 500 and exporting lumber to the United States and Britain. Henson also became a Methodist preacher, abolitionist, and served in the Canadian army as an officer. Henson had three autobiographies published, “The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as narrated by Him” (1849), “Truth Stranger Than Fiction, Father Henson’s Story of His Own Life” (1858), and “Uncle Tom’s Story of His Life: An Autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson” (1876). Henson was the first Black man to be featured on a Canadian stamp and also was recognized by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in 1999 as a National Historic Person. A federal plaque honoring him is located at the Henson family cemetery. Henson’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, 5/4/2014

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• May 4, 1891 Provident Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, the first Black owned and operated hospital in the United States, was established by Dr. Daniel Hale Williams. At that time, Black physicians had limited or no hospital privileges and nursing schools in Chicago did not admit Black students. The original building housed 12 beds. By 1897, the hospital was moved to a larger building, had 189 patients, and an outpatient clinic that treated 6,000 patients. In the early 1930s, Provident purchased a seven-story building, built a four-story outpatient clinic, and purchased two apartment buildings to house student nurses. Provident was forced to close in 1987 due to financial difficulties but reopened in 1997 as part of Cook County’s Bureau of Health Services.

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Today in Black History, 5/3/2014

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• May 3, 1898 Septima Poinsette Clark, “grandmother of the Civil Rights Movement,” was born in Charleston, South Carolina. As an African American, Clark was barred from teaching in the Charleston public school system, therefore she began teaching on John’s Island. In 1919, she returned to Charleston to teach at Avery Normal Institute, a private academy for Black children, and became active with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. From 1929 to 1947, Clark taught in the Columbia, South Carolina public school system. During that time, she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Benedict College in 1942 and her Master of Arts degree from Hampton Institute in 1946. In 1956, Clark became vice president of the Charleston branch of the NAACP. That same year, the South Carolina legislature passed a law banning city or state employees from being involved with civil rights organizations. Clark refused to leave the NAACP and was fired from her teaching position. Beginning in 1954, Clark was active with the Highlander Folk School where she ran an adult literacy program. One of the participants in her workshops was Rosa Parks. In response to Southern states which required literacy and knowledge of the United States constitution in order to register to vote, Clark established “Citizenship Schools” throughout the Deep South. The program became so large that it was transferred to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Clark became SCLC’s director of education and training. Clark retired from the SCLC in 1970 and from 1974 to 1982 served on the Charleston County School Board, the first Black female member. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter presented Clark a Living Legend Award. Her autobiography, “Ready From Within: Septima Clark and the Civil Rights Movement,” was published in 1986. Clark died December 15, 1987.

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Today in Black History, 5/2/2014

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• May 2, 1843 Elijah J. McCoy, hall of fame engineer and inventor, was born in Colchester, Ontario, Canada. His parents had escaped enslavement to Canada. McCoy studied engineering in Edinburgh, Scotland and after returning to Canada found work with the Michigan Central Railroad. On July 12, 1872, he received patent number 129,843 for “Improvements in Lubricators for Steam-Engines.” This was a boon for railroads because it allowed trains to run faster and more profitably with less need to stop for lubrication and maintenance. McCoy continued to invent until late in his life, receiving 57 patents mostly related to lubrication but also including a folding ironing board and a lawn sprinkler. In 1920, he formed the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company. McCoy died October 10, 1929. In 1975, a Michigan historical marker was placed at the site of his Detroit, Michigan home and Elijah McCoy Drive in Detroit was named in his honor. In 2001, he was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and in 2006 the play “The Real McCoy” was written which chronicled his life and inventions. His biography, also titled “The Real McCoy,” was published in 2007. McCoy’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, 5/1/2014

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• May 1, 1866 The Memphis Riots of 1866 began after a shooting altercation between White policemen and Black Soldiers recently mustered out of the Union Army in Memphis, Tennessee. For three days, mobs of White civilians and policemen rampaged through Black neighborhoods. A report by a joint Congressional Committee detailed 46 Black people and 2 White people killed, 75 persons injured, over 100 persons robbed, 5 women raped, and 91 homes, 4 churches, and 8 schools burned. No criminal charges were ever brought against any of the perpetrators of atrocities committed during the riots. The riots did result in major changes toward modernization of the city’s police force.

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Today in Black History, 4/30/2014

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• April 30, 1872 Turner Byrd, Jr. of Williamsville, Michigan received patent number 126,181 for an improved neck-yoke for wagons. Byrd also received patent numbers 123,328 February 6, 1872 for an improved harness rein holder, 124,790 March 19, 1872 for an improved apparatus for detaching horses from carriages, 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, 4/29/2014

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• April 29, 1854 Lincoln University, the first degree granting historically Black college, was established as Ashmun Institute in Chester County, Pennsylvania “to provide a higher education in the arts and sciences for male youth of African descent.” In 1866, the institution was renamed Lincoln University. The first African American president was named in 1945 and in 1952 the institution began admitting women. Between 1854 and 1954, Lincoln produced 20 percent of the Black doctors and 10 percent of the Black lawyers in the United States. Today, the institution offers 37 undergraduate majors and 5 pre-professional programs to approximately 2,500 students. Notable alumni include Roscoe Lee Browne, Cab Calloway, Langston Hughes, Thurgood Marshall, and Kwame Nkrumah.

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Today in Black History, 4/28/2014

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• April 28, 1891 George Toliver of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania received patent number 451,086 for his invention of a new propeller for vessels. His invention was simple, durable, and efficient in providing motive power to force vessels through water and thereby gaining speed and economizing power. Not much else is known of Toliver’s life.

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Today in Black History, 4/27/2014

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• April 27, 1882 Jessie Redmon Fauset, editor, author and educator, was born in Fredericksville, New Jersey. Fauset earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Cornell University in 1905 and is believed to be the second Black woman elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She earned her Master of Arts degree in French from the University of Pennsylvania in 1919. Fauset began working at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s The Crisis magazine in 1912 and from 1919 to 1926 served as literary editor. She wrote four novels, “There is Confusion” (1924), “Plum Bun” (1928), “The Chinaberry Tree: A Novel of American Life” (1931), and “Comedy, American Style” (1933) and several poems and short stories. Fauset also worked as a schoolteacher from 1905 to 1919 and again from 1927 to her retirement in 1949. Fauset died April 30, 1961 and her biography, “Jessie Redmon Fauset: Black American Writer,” was published in 1981.

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Today in Black History, 4/26/2014

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• April 26, 1886 Ma Rainey, hall of fame vocalist and the “Mother of the Blues,” was born Gertrude Malissa Nix in Columbus, Georgia. Rainey first appeared on stage at 14 and in 1904 began performing with her husband as Rainey & Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues. She made her first recording in 1923 and between that year and 1928 recorded more than 100 songs, including “Moonshine Blues” (1923), “C. C. Rider” (1924), and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (1927). She earned enough money that she was able to retire from performing in 1933 and run two theaters that she owned until her death December 22, 1939. Rainey was posthumously inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. In 1994, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor. In 2004, her recording of “C. C. Rider” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as a recording of “qualitative or historical significance” and included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Books about Rainey include “Ma Rainey and the Classic Blues Singers” (1970) and “Mother of the Blues: A Study of Ma Rainey” (1981). Rainey’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, 4/25/2014

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• April 25, 1882 William B. Purvis of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania received patent number 256,856 for a bag fastener. His invention used gum or paste to seal paper bags, thus eliminating the need for a cord. Over his lifetime, Purvis received ten additional patents. He is also believed to have invented, but did not patent, several other devices. Little else is known of Purvis’ life.

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