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Today in Black History, 4/10/2014

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• April 10, 1926 Johnnie Tillmon Blackston, welfare reformer, was born in Scott, Arkansas. The daughter of sharecroppers, Blackston never finished high school. When things went bad in Arkansas, she left her first husband and moved to Los Angeles, California with her six children. There she worked in a laundry and received Aid to Families With Children. During that time, welfare inspectors routinely invaded the privacy of recipients, checking on their possessions and ensuring that they were not living with men. In 1963, Blackston organized a meeting of other welfare recipients to protest these invasions. Out of that meeting came a statewide organization, Aid to Needy Children Mothers Anonymous. That organization inspired the creation of the National Welfare Rights Organization with Blackston as executive director. The NWRO successfully campaigned for reforms that removed many of the system’s paternalistic trappings. After the NWRO closed in 1974, Blackston worked as a legislative aide and served on state and local committees concerned with welfare until her death November 22, 1995.

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Liberation Film Series presents Lumumba at The Wright Museum; Free film screening & discussion includes current challenges in the Congo

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The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History’s Liberation Film Series presents a free screening of Lumumba, the true story of the rise to power and brutal assassination of the formerly vilified and later redeemed Prime Minister of the independent Congo, Patrice Lumumba. The screening will be followed by a discussion on “Lumumba: The Man, His Ideas, and Today's Challenge in the Congo,” led by Dr. Rita Kiki (Nkiru) Edozie of Michigan State University and Maurice Carney of the Friends of the Congo organization. This free event takes place Saturday, April 12, 2014, starting at 2 pm at the museum, located at 315 East Warren Avenue in Detroit.

Using newly discovered historical evidence, Lumumba renders an emotional and tautly woven account of the mail clerk and beer salesman with a flair for oratory and an uncompromising belief in the capacity of his homeland to build a prosperous, independent, and truly African nation free of its former Belgium overlords. Lumumba emerges as the heroic sacrificial lamb dubiously portrayed by the international media and led to slaughter by commercial and political interests in Belgium, the United States, the international community, and Lumumba's own administration. It is a true story of political intrigue and murder where political entities, captains of commerce, and the military dovetail in their quest for economic and political hegemony.

The Berlin (Congo) Conference of 1884 - 1885 established agreements for Europeans to increase their colonialism of Africa to gain access to vast mineral resources, free labor, wealth and geostrategic locations. In 1878, King Léopold II of Belgium joined forces with Henry Morton Stanley, under the guise of philanthropic interests, to obtain the Congo Free State - what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo - as his personal property. Leopold criminally “owned and ruled” the Congo Free State for 23 years (1885 - 1908) and earned the equivalent of one billion dollars primarily from the extraction of rubber, ivory, and the exploitation of free African labor. King Léopold II’s reign resulted in the mutilation and murder of over 13 million Congolese, approximately half of the population of the region. The historian Walter Rodney’s 1972 magnum opus, entitled “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,” further delineates this atrocity. For 52 years following King Léopold II, from 1908 to 1960, the Congolese people suffered under the foot of Belgian colonization.

Patrice Émery Lumumba (born Élias Okit'Asombo, July 2, 1925 – January 17, 1961) was a Congolese, pan African revolutionary leader who helped his country win its independence from Belgium in June 1960 and became the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo (now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo). On January 17, 1961, after being beaten and tortured, Patrice Lumumba was assassinated. This criminal act, sanctioned by U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, was coordinated by CIA Director Allan Dulles (and attempted by his agents Victor Hedgman and Joseph Scheider) and Belgian, British (M16) and United Nation forces in collusion with United States-financed Congolese mercenaries Joseph-Desiré Mobutu, Joseph Kasavubu, Moïse Kapenda Tshombe, and their associates.

Directed by Raoul Peck, the story of Lumumba serves as one of many possible entry points for examining the history of Africa’s exploitation and how it continues to inform the continent’s present and future, and serves as a substantive comparison to the continuing fight for justice and rights of African Americans.

About the Liberation Film Series

The Liberation Film Series is supported by the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, and the Black/African Studies Departments of Michigan State University, University of Michigan - Dearborn, University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, Wayne State University, Eastern Michigan University, Wayne County Community College District, Oakland University, and University of Massachusetts – Amherst, National Council of Black Studies, Dr. Errol Henderson (Pennsylvania State University), Media Education Foundation, The Walter P. Reuther Library – Wayne State University, Fashion International, Black & White Look Optical Corporation, Wayne State University Press, Bentley Historical Library - University of Michigan, University Prep Science & Math High School, Nandi’s Book Store, The African History Network Show, community activists, and individual contributors. The 2013 - 2014 season of the Liberation Film Series runs through June 2014, and is free and open to the public. For more information, including the complete series schedule and respective speaker profiles, discussion topics, trailers, reading lists, supplemental educational links, and insightful statements of endorsement, please visit www.TheWright.org/liberation.

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Today in Black History, 4/9/2014

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• April 9, 1866 The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was passed by the United States Congress. The act provided that “All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind and to no other.” The problem with the act was that it contained no remedies for violations and because those being discriminated against had limited access to legal help, it essentially left victims without any recourse.

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Today in Black History, 4/8/2014

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• April 8, 1872 Ruth Ada Gaines-Shelton, playwright, was born in Glasgow, Missouri. Shelton-Gaines graduated from Wilberforce University in 1895 and taught school until 1898. After marrying, Gaines wrote many plays but her only known published work is “The Church Fight” which was published in the Crisis Magazine in May, 1926. This play is significant because it documents the creative activities of Black women within their own communities during a time when most other avenues of opportunity were closed. “The Church Fight” continues to be performed today. Not much else is known of Gaines-Shelton’s life, including the date of her death.

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Today in Black History, 4/7/2014

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• 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). At an early age, Toussaint’s master recognized his superior intelligence 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. By 1796, Toussaint was the dominant figure in Haiti and tried to rebuild the collapsed economy and reestablish commercial contacts with the United States and Britain. However, in 1802 he was kidnapped by the French 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 4/6/2014

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• April 6, 1712 The New York City Slave Revolt started when 23 enslaved Africans killed nine Whites and injured six. As a result, 70 Black people were arrested and jailed, 27 were put on trial and 21 were convicted and executed. Also laws governing the lives of Black people in New York were made more restrictive. Africans were not permitted to gather in groups of more than three, crimes such as property damage, rape, and conspiracy were made punishable by death, and free black people were not allowed to own land.

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Today in Black History, 4/5/2014

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• April 5, 1839 Robert Smalls, businessman and politician, was born enslaved in Beaufort, South Carolina. In 1862, while serving as a helmsman on a Confederate military transport, he and other Black crewman took over the ship and handed it over to the Union Navy. This action made Smalls famous in the North and Congress passed a bill rewarding Smalls and his crewman prize money for the captured ship. Smalls returned to Beaufort and purchased the estate of his former master. Smalls served as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1865 to 1870, the South Carolina Senate from 1871 to 1874, and the United States House of Representatives from 1875 to 1879 and 1882 to 1883. Smalls also served as U. S. Collector of Customs from 1889 to 1911. Smalls died February 23, 1915. The Robert Smalls House in Beaufort was designated a National Historic Landmark May 30, 1973 and Robert Smalls Middle School in Beaufort is named in his honor. On September 15, 2007, the U. S. Army commissioned a Logistics Support Vessel in his name, the first army vessel named for an African American. Biographies of Small include “From Slavery to Public Service: Robert Smalls, 1839 – 1915” (1971) and “Gullah Statesman: Robert Smalls From Slavery to Congress, 1839 – 1915” (1995). In 2012, an exhibition, “The Life and Times of Congressman Robert Smalls,” was curated by the South Carolina State Museum.

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Today in Black History, 4/4/2014

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• April 4, 1910 Barthelemy Boganda, the first Prime Minister of the Central African Republic, was born. Boganda was adopted and educated by Roman Catholic missionaries. In 1938, he was ordained as the first Roman Catholic priest from his region. In 1946, Boganda was elected to the French National Assembly where he maintained a political platform against racism and the colonial regime. He also founded the Movement for the Social Evolution of Black Africa. On December 1, 1958, Boganda declared the establishment of the Central African Republic and became the first prime minister. Boganda died March 29, 1959 in an airplane crash. A little more than a year after his death, the Central African Republic attained formal independence from France. Boganda is considered a hero and the father of his nation. Many places in the CAR are named in his honor and March 29 is Boganda Day, a public holiday.

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Today in Black History, 4/3/2014

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• April 3, 1838 John Willis Menard, the first African American elected to the United States Congress, was born in Kaskaskia, Illinois. During the Civil War, Menard worked in the U. S. Department of Interior and in 1863 was sent to British Honduras to investigate a proposed colony for previously enslaved African Americans. After the war, Menard moved to New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1868, he was elected to Congress to fill an unexpired term but was denied the seat due to a challenge by the loser. After hearing the arguments of both candidates, the House decided to seat neither man. During the process, Menard became the first African American to address the U. S. House of Representatives. Later, Menard moved to Florida where he served in the Florida House of Representatives and as justice of the peace for Duval County. He also was the editor of the Florida News and the Southern Leader from 1882 to 1888. Menard died October 8, 1893.

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Today in Black History, 4/2/2014

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• April 2, 1911 Charles “Honi” Coles, hall of fame tap dancer and actor, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Coles developed his high-speed rhythm tapping on the streets of his hometown. In 1940, while dancing with the Cab Calloway band, he teamed with Charles “Cholly” Atkins to form Coles & Atkins. Their partnership lasted 19 years. Coles made his Broadway debut in the 1949 production of “Gentleman Prefer Blondes.” He also appeared in “Bubbling Brown Sugar” in 1976. His performance in the 1983 production of “My One and Only” earned him both the Tony and Drama Desk Awards for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. During the 1980s, Coles taught dance and dance history at Yale, Cornell, Duke, and George Washington Universities. On July 9, 1991, Coles was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President George H. W. Bush. Coles died November 12, 1992. He was posthumously inducted into the Tap Dance Hall of Fame in 2003.

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Today in Black History, 4/1/2014

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• April 1, 1854 Augustine John Tolton, the first Black Roman Catholic priest in the United States, was born enslaved in Ralls County, Missouri. During the Civil War, the Tolton family escaped to Quincy, Illinois. There, Tolton was tutored by several priests. No American seminary would admit a Black student, therefore he attended the Urban College of the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide in Rome, Italy. Tolton was ordained to the priesthood in Rome April 24, 1886 and directed to return to the United States to serve the Black community. He organized St. Joseph Catholic Church and School in Quincy. After reassignment to Chicago, Illinois, Tolton led the development and administration of the “Negro national parish” of St. Monica’s Catholic Church which he grew to 600 parishioners. This earned him national attention. Tolton was known for his eloquent sermons, beautiful singing voice, and his talent for playing the accordion. Tolton died July 9, 1897. His biography, “From Slave to Priest: A Biography of the Reverend Augustine Tolton (1854-1897),” was published in 1973. The Father Augustine Tolton Regional Catholic High School in Columbia, Missouri is named in his honor. In 2011, the Roman Catholic Church officially began the formal introduction of the cause for sainthood of Tolton. He is now designated Servant of God – Fr. Augustus Tolton.

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Today in Black History, 3/31/2014

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• March 31, 1797 Olaudah Equiano, seaman, merchant, explorer and abolitionist, died. Equiano was born around 1745 in present day Nigeria and at 10 was kidnapped by kinsmen and sold into slavery in the English colony of Virginia. Having a naval captain as a slaver allowed Equiano to receive training in seamanship and travel extensively. Later, Equiano was purchased by a Quaker merchant who taught him to read and write and allowed him to trade for his own benefit. These profits allowed Equiano to earn his freedom by his early twenties and return to Britain where he believed he was free of the risk of future enslavement. In 1789, Equiano’s autobiography, “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African,” was published and it rapidly went through several editions. It was the first influential slave autobiography and fueled a growing anti-slavery movement in Great Britain. The book vividly demonstrated the humanity of Africans as well as the inhumanity of the institution of slavery.

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Today in Black History, 3/30/2014

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• March 30, 1886 Robert F. Flemmings, Jr. of Melrose, Massachusetts received patent number 338,727 for improvements in the guitar. His instrument maintained all of the good qualities of the guitar of the times but had superior volume and tone and was more sensitive to the touch. Nothing else is known of Flemmings’ life.

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Today in Black History, 3/29/2014

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• March 29, 1849 Andrew Jackson Beard, hall of fame inventor, was born enslaved in Woodland, Alabama. Beard was freed after the Civil War and 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 in 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. On November 23, 1897, he received patent number 594,059 for an 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 invention for $50,000. 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, 3/28/2014

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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, 3/27/2014

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• March 27, 1905 Leroy Carr, 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 in 1928 recorded his first release, “How Long, How Long Blues,” which 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.

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Today in Black History, 3/26/2014

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• March 26, 1831 Richard Allen, minister, educator and the 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 in 1777 bought his freedom and that of his brother. Allen joined the Methodist Society at an early age and was qualified as a preacher in 1784. In 1786, he began to preach at St. George’s United Methodist Church. However due to the church’s segregationist policies, in 1787 he and Absalom Jones led the Black members out of the church to form the Free African Society, a non-denominational mutual aid society. Also in 1787, 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. In 1816, Allen founded the independent denomination of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 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, 3/25/2014

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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. In 1991, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor and in 2006 he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

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Today in Black History, 3/24/2014

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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. On January 17, 1882, he received patent number 252,386 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, 3/23/2014

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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 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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