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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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Today in Black History, 3/22/2014

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

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Today in Black History, 3/21/2014

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• March 21, 1856 Henry Ossian Flipper, the first African American cadet to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point, was born enslaved in Thomasville, Georgia. After the Civil War, Flipper enrolled at Atlanta University and as a freshman was appointed to West Point where there were already four Black cadets. Despite the difficulties caused by his White classmates, Flipper persevered and graduated June 14, 1877. As a second lieutenant, Flipper was the first non-White officer to command the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry. In 1878, Flipper described his experience at West Point in the book “The Colored Cadet at West Point.” In 1881, Flipper was found guilty “of conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman” and dismissed from the service based on a relationship and correspondence with a White woman. Flipper contested the charges and fought to regain his commission until his death May 3, 1940. In 1976, the Department of the Army issued Flipper a posthumous Certificate of Honorable Discharge and in 1990 President William Clinton issued a pardon. After his discharge was changed, a bust of Flipper was unveiled at West Point and annually the Henry O. Flipper Award is given to graduating cadets who exhibit “leadership, self-discipline and perseverance in the face of unusual difficulties.” “Negro Frontiersman: The Western Memoirs of Henry O. Flipper” was published in 1963.

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Today in Black History, 3/20/2014

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• March 20, 1883 Jan Earnst Matzeliger of Lynn, Massachusetts received patent number 274,207 for his Automatic Method for Lasting Shoes. His machine could produce shoes ten times faster than working by hand and resulted in a more than 50% reduction in the cost of shoes. 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 Massachusetts and was working for a cobbler. After five years of work, he patented his invention. 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, 423,937 for a tack separating and distributing mechanism March 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, 3/19/2014

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• March 19, 1872 Turner Byrd, Jr. of Williamsville, Michigan received patent number 124,790 for an improved apparatus for detaching horses from carriages. Byrd’s invention allowed the occupant of a carriage, when a horse became unmanageable, to simply pull a string to separate the horse from the carriage. Byrd also received patent numbers 123,328 February 6, 1872 for an improved harness rein holder, 126,181 April 30, 1872 for an improved neck-yoke for wagons, 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, 3/18/2014

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• March 18, 1901 William Henry Johnson, artist, was born in Florence, South Carolina. As a teenager, Johnson knew he wanted to be an artist. Around 1919, he moved to New York City to study and enrolled at the National Academy of Design. From 1926 to 1938, Johnson lived and painted in Europe. In 1947, Johnson developed mental illness and was institutionalized until his death in 1970. Before his death, all of his work was donated to what is now the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Today, Johnson is recognized as one of the greatest American artists of the 20th century. The United States Postal Service included his still-life painting “Flowers” (1939/1940) in its American Treasures series of postage stamps. The William H. Johnson Foundation for the Arts in Los Angeles, California was established in 2001 to provide financial assistance to early career minority artists.

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Today in Black History, 3/17/2014

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• March 17, 1806 Norbert Rillieux, engineer and inventor, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. As a Creole from a prominent family, Rillieux had access to education and privileges not available to many other Black people. In the early 1820s, he travelled to Paris, France to attend school, studying physics, mechanics, and engineering. He became an expert in steam engines and published several papers about the use of steam to work devices. At 24, he became the youngest teacher at the school. While in France, Rillieux started researching ways to improve the sugar refining process and after returning to the United States in 1833 began to develop a machine for which he was granted patent number 3237 August 26, 1843. The multiple-effect evaporation system that he devised addressed all of the shortcomings of prior sugar refining processes and by 1849 thirteen Louisiana sugar factories were using his invention. His invention was an important development in the growth of the sugar industry. In the 1850s, Rillieux presented a plan to the government of New Orleans to eliminate the moist breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that were causing a Yellow Fever outbreak. His plan was turned down. Several years later, as the Yellow Fever outbreak continued, the city accepted a plan from White engineers that was similar to the plan proposed by Rillieux. Rillieux returned to France in the late 1850s where he died October 8, 1894. A Children’s book, “Sugar Makes Sweet Norbert Rillieux Inventor,” was published in 1994.

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Today in Black History, 3/16/2014

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• March 16, 1827 Freedom’s Journal, the first African American owned and operated newspaper in the United States, was published 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 improvement of 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. The last edition was published March 28, 1829.

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Today in Black History, 3/15/2014

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• March 15, 1809 Joseph Jenkins Roberts, the first President of the Republic of Liberia, was born in Norfolk, Virginia. In 1829, Roberts immigrated to Liberia with the American Colonization Society. He and his two brothers established a successful import and export business between the United States and Liberia. In 1833, Roberts became high sheriff of the colony and in 1839 vice governor. On July 26, 1847, Liberia was declared independent and Roberts was elected the first president. He was re-elected three times, serving a total of eight years. During his tenure, Roberts expanded the borders of Liberia and attempted to integrate the indigenous people into the government. After losing the election of 1855, Roberts served the next 15 years as a major general in the Liberian army as well as diplomatic representative to France and Great Britain. He also helped to establish Liberia College and served as president from 1862 to 1876. Roberts was re-elected President of Liberia in 1872 and served in the office until his death February 24, 1876. Roberts left $10,000 and his estate to the Liberian education system. Roberts International Airport, the town of Robertsport, and Roberts Street in Monrovia are named in his honor. His image is depicted on the Liberian ten dollar bill and March 15 is a national holiday in Liberia.

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Today in Black History, 3/14/2014

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• March 14, 1882 Albert C. Richardson of South Frankfort, Michigan received patent number 255,022 for an improved hame fastener for harnesses. Richardson created several other devices that were completely unrelated to each other. He subsequently received patent numbers 446,470 February 17, 1891 for a butter churn, 529,311 November 13, 1894 for a casket lowering device, 620,362 February 22, 1899 for an insect destroyer, and 638,811 December 12, 1899 for an improvement in the design of the bottle. Not much else is known of Richardson’s life.

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Today in Black History, 3/13/2014

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• March 13, 1873 Joe Walcott (also known as Barbados Joe Walcott), hall of fame boxer, was born in Demerara, British Guyana. As a youngster, Walcott got a job as a cabin boy on a ship sailing to Boston, Massachusetts. After settling in Boston, he got a job at a gym and began boxing. Walcott made his professional debut in 1890 and won the World Welterweight Boxing Championship in 1901. He held the title until 1904. Walcott retired from boxing in 1911 with a record of 92 wins, 25 losses, and 24 draws. Walcott lost most of the money that he earned as a fighter and worked as a custodian until his death October 4, 1935. He was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.

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