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Today in Black History, 12/7/2013

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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 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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Today in Black History, 12/6/2013

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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, 12/5/2013

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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, 12/4/2013

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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, 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 July 3, 1776. In 1791, Black Freemasons formed the African Grand Lodge of North America and unanimously elected Hall Grand Master, a position 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, 12/3/2013

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• December 3, 1847 Fredrick Douglass published the first edition of the North Star. In the first edition the paper stated, “It has long been our anxious wish to see, in this slave-holding, slave-trading, and Negro-hating land, a printed-press and paper, permanently established, under the complete control and direction of the immediate victims of slavery and oppression.” The North Star’s slogan, “Right is of no sex, Truth is of no color, God is the father of us all, and we are all brethren,” spoke to the scope of their coverage, including emancipation, women’s suffrage, and education. The newspaper and was published until June, 1851 when Douglass and Gerrit Smith agreed to merge the North Star with the Liberty Party Paper to form Frederick Douglass’ Paper. That paper was published for another ten years when Douglass was forced to shut it down for financial reasons.

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Today in Black History, 12/2/2013

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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, 12/1/2013

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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 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 126,181 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, 11/30/2013

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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 June 1, 1875, patent number 194,287 for a process for treating coconut August 21, 1877, and patent number 230,518 for a process for preparing coconut July 27, 1880. Not much else is known of Ashbourne’s life except that he was a successful dry goods grocer.

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Today in Black History, 11/29/2013

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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 1884, he and his brother formed the Woods Railway Telegraph Company to manufacture and sell telephone and telegraph equipment. 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.” Despite this, Woods died virtually penniless January 30, 1910. The Granville T. Woods Math and Science Community Academy in Chicago, Illinois is named in his honor. Woods was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006.

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Today in Black History, 11/28/2013

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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. He 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, 11/27/2013

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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, 11/26/2013

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• November 26, 1878 Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor, hall of fame bicyclist, 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 1896, 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 June 21, 1932. Taylor was posthumously inducted into the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame in 1989. A statue to memorialize Taylor was unveiled May 21, 2008 in Worcester, Massachusetts and Indianapolis, Indiana named the city’s bicycle track the Major Taylor Velodrome in 1982, the first building in Indianapolis built with public funds to be named after a Black person. Nike markets a sports shoe called the Major Taylor. Taylor published his autobiography, “Autobiography: The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World,” in 1929. Other biographies of Taylor include “Major Taylor: The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer” (1988) and the television miniseries “Tracks of Glory: The Major Taylor Story” (1992).

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Today in Black History, 11/25/2013

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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.” Those 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. He 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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Today in Black History, 11/24/2013

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• November 24, 1868 Scott Joplin, hall of fame composer and pianist, was born near Texarkana, Texas. At eleven years old, Joplin was taught music theory, keyboard technique, and an appreciation of folk and opera music. As an adult, he also studied at George R. Smith College, a historically Black college in Missouri. He achieved fame for his unique ragtime compositions and was known as the “King of Ragtime.” Over his career, Joplin wrote 44 ragtime pieces, a ragtime ballet, and two operas. One of his first pieces, “Maple Leaf Rag,” became ragtime’s first and most influential hit and sold over one million copies of sheet music. Joplin died April 1, 1917 but his music returned to popularity with the 1970 release of “Scott Joplin Piano Rags,” which sold over a million albums, and the 1973 movie “The Sting” which featured several of his compositions and won the Academy Award for Best Music. In 1970, Joplin was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and in 1976 was recognized with a Pulitzer Prize for his contribution to American music. In 1983, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor. Several books have been published about Joplin, including “King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era” (1996) and “Dancing to a Black Man’s Tune: A Life of Scott Joplin” (2004). In The biographical film, “Scott Joplin,” was released in 1977.

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Today in Black History, 11/23/2013

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• November 23, 1897 Andrew Jackson Beard received patent number 594,059 for his improved rail coupler design. Before automatic car couplers, railroad workers had to manually hook railroad cars together by dropping a pin between the two connectors of the engaging cars. Often the workers could not move away from the cars fast enough and many, including Beard, lost limbs after becoming wedged between the cars. Beard sold the rights to this patent for $50,000. Beard was born March 29, 1849 in Woodland, Alabama and spent his first fifteen years enslaved. After emancipation, Beard worked as a farmer, carpenter, blacksmith, railroad worker, and businessman. He patented his first invention, a plow, in 1881 and sold the rights for $4,000. He patented a second plow December 15, 1887 and sold the rights for $5,200. He then invested the money from his inventions into a profitable real estate business. On July 5, 1892, he received patent number 478,271 for an improved rotary steam engine which was cheaper and easier to build and operate than conventional steam engines. Not much is known of Beard’s life after 1897 except that he died in 1921. Beard was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006.

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Today in Black History, 11/22/2013

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• November 22, 1871 Oscar James Dunn, the first elected Black lieutenant governor of a U. S. state, died. Dunn was born around 1826 in New Orleans, Louisiana. During the 1850s he became a member of the Prince Hall Masons, eventually serving as Grand Master of one of the lodges. This provided him a power base that would be the foundation of his political career. Dunn was also a businessman, running an employment agency that assisted in finding jobs for freedmen and serving as secretary of the advisory committee of the Freedmen’s Savings & Trust Company. In 1866, he organized the People’s Bakery. Dunn actively promoted and supported the Universal Suffrage Movement, advocated land ownership for all Black people, free public education for all Black children, and equal protection under the law. In 1868, Dunn was elected Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana, a position he held until his death. During his time in office, he was president pro tempore of the State Senate and president of the Metropolitan Police, with both positions commanding million dollar budgets. Dunn also served on the board of trustees and examining committee of Straight University (now Dillard University). Dunn’s funeral is reported to have been one of the largest ever in New Orleans with 50,000 people lining the streets for his funeral procession and newspapers across the nation reporting the event.

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Today in Black History, 11/21/2013

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• November 21, 1865 Shaw University was founded in Raleigh, North Carolina by the American Baptist Home Mission Society as the first college for African Americans in the South. The university was named for Elijah Shaw, benefactor of Shaw Hall, the first building constructed for the college. The Leonard Medical School was established in 1881 as the first four year medical school in the South to train Black doctors and pharmacists and operated until 1918. Today, the college has a faculty of 207 with 2,700 undergraduate and 100 postgraduate students. Notable alumni include Ella Baker, James E. Cheek, Willie E. Gary, and Shirley Caesar. “Shaw’s Universe: A Monument to Educational Innovation” was published in 1973.

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Today in Black History, 11/20/2013

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• November 20, 1695 Zumbi, also known as Zumbi dos Palmares, leader of the Quilombo dos Palmares in Brazil was captured and beheaded by the Portuguese. Zumbi was born free in Palmares in 1655 but was captured by the Portuguese when he was six years old. Despite efforts to pacify him, Zumbi escaped when he was 15 and returned to his birthplace. He became known for his physical prowess and cunning in battle and was a respected military strategist by the time he was in his early twenties. In 1678, Zumbi became the leader of Palmares and for the next seventeen years led the fight for the independence of Palmares, a self-sustaining republic of Maroons who had escaped from the Portuguese settlements in Brazil. Today, Zambi is honored as a hero, freedom fighter, and symbol of freedom in Brazil and a bust of Zumbi sits in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, with a plaque that reads “Zumbi dos Palmares, the leader of all races.” Also November 20 is celebrated as a day of Black consciousness in Brazil. Zambi dos Palmares International Airport in Macelo, Brazil is named in his honor.

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Today in Black History, 11/19/2013

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• November 19, 1797 Sojourner Truth, hall of fame abolitionist and women’s rights activist, was born Isabella Baumfree and enslaved in Swartekill, New York. When Truth was nine years old, she was sold with a flock of sheep for $100. In 1826, Truth escaped to freedom and in 1843 changed her name and began traveling and preaching about abolition. Her memoir, “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave,” was published in 1850. Truth attended the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention and delivered her famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman” May 29, 1851. During the Civil War, Truth helped recruit Black soldiers for the Union Army and later met with Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. Truth died November 26, 1883. Truth was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1981, in 1986 the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor, and she became the first Black woman to be honored with a bust in the United States Capitol April 28, 2009. A number of biographies have been published about Truth, including “Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend” (1993) and “Glorying in Tribulation: The Lifework of Sojourner Truth” (1994). Truth’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, 11/18/2013

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• November 18, 1900 Howard Thurman, author, theologian, educator and civil rights leader, was born in Daytona Beach, Florida. Thurman earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Morehouse College in 1923 and his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Colgate Rochester Theological Seminary in 1926. In 1929, he earned his Ph.D. from Haverford College. Thurman was selected as dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University in 1932 and served until 1944 when he left to help establish the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, the first racially integrated, intercultural church in the United States. In 1953, he became the first Black dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University where he served until 1965. A prolific author, Thurman wrote 20 books, including “Jesus and the Disinherited” (1949) which greatly influenced Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1953, Life Magazine rated Thurman among the 12 most important religious leaders in the United States and Ebony Magazine called him one of the 50 most important figures in African American history. Thurman died April 10, 1981. That same year, “With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman” was published.

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