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Today in Black History, 06/03/2015 | Jospehine Baker

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June 3, 1906 Josephine Baker, entertainer and actress, was born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri. Baker moved to New York City at 15 and appeared in the chorus of “Shuffle Along” (1921). By the time she appeared in “The Chocolate Dandies” (1924), she was the highest paid chorus girl in vaudeville. She debuted in Paris, France in 1925 and after a while was the most successful American entertainer working in France. Despite her popularity in France, Baker never achieved the same level of success in the United States. She returned to Paris in 1937 and became a French citizen. During World War II, Baker volunteered to spy for France and provided significant assistance to the French Resistance. In recognition of her efforts, she was the first American born woman to receive the French military honor, the Croix de Guerre. Although based in France, Baker was supportive of the Civil Rights Movement. When in the U.S., she refused to perform for segregated audiences and spoke at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Baker died April 12, 1975. Biographies of Baker include “Jazz Cleopatra: Josephine Baker in Her Time” (1989) and “Josephine: The Hungry Heart” (2001). HBO broadcasted her life story in the 1991 film “The Josephine Baker Story.” The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor in 2008. 

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Today in Black History 06/02/2015 | First African American Bishop

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June 2, 1875 James Augustine Healy was officially ordained as Bishop of Portland, Maine, the first African American bishop in the United States. Healy was born enslaved April 6, 1830 near Macon, Georgia. Although he was three-quarters or more of European ancestry, he was considered Black. Because Georgia prohibited the education of slaves, Healy’s Irish-American father arranged for his children to move north where they could obtain an education and have better opportunities. Healy earned his Bachelor of Arts degree, and was valedictorian of his class, from the College of Holy Cross in 1849. Following graduation, he wanted to enter the priesthood but could not study at the Jesuit novitiate in Maryland as it was a slave state. Therefore, he entered Sulpician Seminary in Montreal, Canada where he earned his Master of Arts degree in 1851. He was ordained a priest June 10, 1854 at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. Healy became pastor of St. James Church, the largest Catholic congregation in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1866. After being ordained a bishop, he governed his diocese for the next 25 years, overseeing the establishment of 60 new churches, 68 missions, 18 convents, and 18 schools. Healy died August 5, 1900. Today, the Archdiocese of Boston Office for Black Catholics awards the Bishop James Augustine Healy Award to dedicated Black parishioners. Healy’s biography, “Bishop Healy: Beloved Outcast,” was published in 1954. “Passing for White: Race, Religion, and the Healy Family, 1820-1920” was published in 2003.

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Today in Black History 06/01/2015 | Morgan Freeman

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June 1, 1937 Morgan Porterfield Freeman, Jr., actor and film director, was born in Memphis, Tennessee. After serving in the United States Air Force from 1955 to 1959, Freeman made his Off-Broadway debut in “The Nigger Lover” in 1967 and his Broadway debut in “Hello, Dolly!” in 1968. Freeman’s first credited film role was in “Who Says I Can’t Ride a Rainbow” in 1971. Freeman has received Academy Award nominations for his roles in “Street Smart” (1987), “Driving Miss Daisy” (1989), “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994), and “Invictus” (2009). He won the 2004 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in “Million Dollar Baby.” Other films in which he has appeared, include “Glory” (1988), “Unforgiven” (1992), “Se7en” (1995), “Deep Impact” (1998), “The Bucket List” (2007), and “Dolphin Tale 2” (2014). He directed “Bopha!,” a feature film set in South Africa, in 1993. He received Kennedy Center Honors in 2008. Freeman received an honorary Doctor of Arts and Letters degree from Delta State University in 2006 and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Boston University in 2013. Freeman replaced Walter Cronkite as the voiceover introduction to the “CBS Evening News” in 2010.

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Today in Black History 05/31/2015 | Tulsa Race Riots & Black Wall Street

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May 31, 1921 The Tulsa Race War in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma occurred, resulting in 35 city blocks of residences being destroyed and 10,000 predominantly Black people left homeless. Officially 39 people were reported killed but unofficial counts range up to 300. The Greenwood section of Tulsa was predominantly Black and had a commercial district that was so prosperous that it was often referred to as “the Negro Wall Street”. On Monday, May 30, a teenage Black man was accused and jailed for assaulting a young White woman. By the next day, thousands of armed White men had gathered to seek revenge and a smaller group of armed Black men gathered to provide protection. A confrontation occurred, resulting in large-scale civil disorder. The Oklahoma state legislature passed the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Reconciliation Act in 2001 which provided for more than 300 college scholarships for descendants of Greenwood residents, mandated the creation of a memorial to those who died in the riot, and called for efforts to promote economic development in Greenwood. The memorial was dedicated October 27, 2010. Books about the riot include “Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921” (1982) and “Reconstructing the Dreamland: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 – Race, Reparations, Reconciliation” (2002).

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Today in Black History 05/30/2015 | Gale Sayers

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May 30, 1943 Gale Eugene Sayers, hall of fame football player and entrepreneur, was born in Wichita, Kansas. Sayers was a two-time All-American at the University of Kansas where he also earned his Bachelor of Arts degree. He was selected by the Chicago Bears in the 1965 National Football League draft and over his brief seven season professional career was a five-time All-Pro selection. Sayers was forced to retire from football in 1971 due to multiple knee injuries. He published his autobiography, “I Am Third”, in 1971. In 1977, Sayers was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the youngest inductee in the hall’s history, and the Chicago Bears retired his uniform number 40 in 1994. After retiring, Sayers returned to the University of Kansas and earned his Master of Arts degree in educational administration. He is chairman of Sayers 40, Inc. Sayers was named the 1980 Walter Camp Man of the Year which annually recognizes an individual who has been closely associated with football as a player or coach. The individual must have attained a measure of success and been a leader in their chosen profession. He was named the Ernest & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 1999. Sayers served as director of fundraising for special projects at the University of Kansas from 2009 to 2012. The Gale Sayers Foundation supports K-12 schools, administrators, and teachers who are challenging the status quo by implementing successful technology based learning models.   

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Today in Black History, 05/29/2015 | "Ain't I a Woman"

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May 29, 1851 Sojourner Truth delivered her famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. Her simple short speech was a powerful rebuke of antifeminist arguments of the day. It is still considered a classic expression of women’s rights. Truth was born Isabella Baumfree enslaved in Swartekill, New York November 19, 1797. She was sold with a flock of sheep for $100 at nine. Truth escaped to freedom in 1826 and changed her name in 1843 and began traveling and preaching about abolition. Her memoir, “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave”, was published in 1850. 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. She was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1981, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor in 1986, and she was the first Black woman to be honored with a bust in the United States Capitol April 28, 2009. A number of books 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 05/28/2015 | Remembering Maya Angelou

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 On May 28, 2014 Maya Angelou, hall of fame author and poet, died. Angelou was born Marguerite Ann Johnson April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. She earned a scholarship to train in African dance in 1952 and toured Europe with a production of the opera “Porgy and Bess” from 1954 to 1955. She recorded her first album, “Miss Calypso," and was featured in the movie “Calypso Heat Wave” in 1957. In the late 1950s, she was active in the Civil Rights Movement, serving as the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Angelou’s first and best known book, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (1969), was nominated for a National Book Award and her 1971 volume of poetry, “Just Give Me a Cool Drink ‘Fore I Diiie," was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. She recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the 1993 inauguration of President William J. Clinton. Her recording of the poem won the 1994 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word or Non-Traditional Album. She also won the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for “Phenomenal Woman” in 1995 and “A Song Flung Up to Heaven” in 2002. Angelou was the 1994 recipient of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal. Angelou was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998, was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor the nation bestows on an individual artist, by President William J. Clinton December 20, 2000, and was awarded the Lincoln Medal in 2008. Angelou was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Barack H. Obama February 15, 2011. She received the Norman Mailer Prize for Lifetime Achievement in 2013 and was awarded over 30 honorary doctorate degrees. She published seven autobiographies, the last one, “Mom & Me & Mom," in 2013. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor in 2015.

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Today in Black History 05/27/2015 | First African American Navy Cross

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May 27, 1942 Doris “Dorie” Miller was awarded the Navy Cross, the first African American to receive the decoration, for his extraordinary courage in battle. Miller was born October 12, 1919 in Waco, Texas and enlisted in the United States Navy in 1939. On December 7, 1941, he was serving as a cook on the USS West Virginia in Pearl Harbor when it was attacked by the Japanese. Although he had no anti-aircraft gun training, Miller took control of one and fired until the gun ran out of ammunition. In recognition of his actions, he was awarded the Navy Cross, the highest decoration bestowed by the Department of the Navy. Miller died November 24, 1943 while serving on the USS Liscome Bay which was hit by a Japanese torpedo and sank. The USS Miller was commissioned in his honor June 30, 1973. Also, a number of schools, streets, and parks are named in his honor. Miller’s biography, “A Man Named Doris," was published in 2003. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2010.
 

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Today in Black History 05/26/2015 | Miles Davis

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May 26, 1926 Miles Dewey Davis III, hall of fame jazz trumpeter, bandleader and composer, was born in Alton, Illinois. Davis was a member of the musical society and playing professionally by 16. He moved to New York City in 1944 to study at the Juilliard School of Music. He entered a recording studio for the first of many times during this period as a sideman in 1945 and was a member of the Charlie Parker Quintet from 1945 to 1948. Davis began to lead his own ensembles in the late 1940s and over the years was at the forefront of several major developments in jazz music with recordings that include “Birth of the Cool” (1949 & 1950), “Kind of Blue” (1959), “Sketches of Spain” (1960), “Bitches Brew” (1969), “Tutu” (1986), and “Amandla” (1989).His album “Kind of Blue” has sold more than 4 million copies. Davis won nine Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990. He was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1962 and was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor that the United States bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1984. Davis died September 28, 1991. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2012. Biographies of Davis include “Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis” (1989) and “Miles: The Autobiography” (1989).

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Today in Black History 05/25/2015 | Bojangles

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May 25, 1878 Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, hall of fame tap dancer and stage and film actor, was born in Richmond, Virginia. Robinson began to dance for a living at six. Robinson served in the United States Army from 1898 to 1900. He gained success and fame on the Black theater circuit and did not dance for White audiences until he was 50 years old when he was featured in “Blackbirds of 1928," a Black revue for White audiences. Robinson appeared in 14 motion pictures after 1930, most frequently as a butler opposite Shirley Temple in such films as “The Little Colonel” (1935) and “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” (1938). He also performed on the stage in “The Hot Mikado” (1939) and “All in Fun” (1940). Despite earning more than $2 million during his lifetime, Robinson died penniless November 25, 1949. A statue of Robinson was unveiled in Richmond June 30, 1973 and in 1989 a congressional resolution declared National Tap Dance Day to be May 25
th, Robinson’s birthday. Robinson was posthumously inducted into the National Museum of Dance’s Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame in 1987. His biography, “Mr. Bojangles: the biography of Bill Robinson," was published in 1988.
 

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Today in Black History 05/24/2015 | Coleman Alexander Young

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May 24, 1918 Coleman Alexander Young, the first African American Mayor of Detroit, Michigan, was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama but raised in Detroit. During World War II, he served in the 477th Medium-Bomber Group, Tuskegee Airman, as a bombardier and navigator and played a role in the Freeman Field Mutiny in which African American officers were arrested for resisting segregation at a base in 1945. Young was elected to the Michigan State Senate in 1964 and became the first African American member of the Democratic National Committee in 1968. Young was elected Mayor of Detroit in 1973. One of his top priorities was to more fully integrate the police force which was approximately 19% African American at the time of his election and over 60% at the end of his tenure. Over his 20 years as mayor, the General Motors “Poletown” plant, the Renaissance Center, the People Mover, Joe Louis Arena, and several other landmarks were completed. Young was also the driving force behind the construction of the current Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History building. He was awarded the 1981 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal. Young died November 29, 1997. His name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the museum. The Coleman A. Young Municipal Center and the Coleman A. Young Municipal Airport are named in his honor.  Young published his autobiography, “Hard Stuff: The Autobiography of Mayor Coleman Young," in 1994.        
                                                                   

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Today in Black History, 05/23/2015 | Samuel Sharpe

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May 23, 1832 Samuel Sharpe, national hero of Jamaica, was hanged for leading the Christmas Rebellion. Sharpe was born enslaved in 1801 in St. James, Jamaica. Although enslaved, Sharpe was allowed to be educated and became a preacher and leader in the enslaved community. On December 25, 1831, he organized a peaceful strike of several estates in western Jamaica during sugar cane harvest time. As a result of reprisals by the plantation owners, the strikers burned the crops. This caused the peaceful protest to turn into Jamaica’s largest slave rebellion, resulting in the death of hundreds of Black people and 14 White people. The Jamaican military ended the rebellion within two weeks and many of the leaders, including Sharpe were hanged. Just before he was hanged, Sharpe stated “I would rather die among yonder gallows, than live in slavery”. The government of Jamaica proclaimed Sharpe a National Hero in 1975 and Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College was named in his honor. Sam Sharpe Square is located in downtown Montego Bay, Jamaica. Sharpe’s image is also on the Jamaican $50 bill.

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Today in Black History, 05/22/2015 | Sun Ra

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May 22, 1914 Sun Ra, hall of fame jazz pianist, composer, bandleader and poet, was born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Alabama. Sun Ra was a skilled pianist as a child and was writing original music by 12. As a teenager, he would see big band performances and produce full transcriptions of the music from memory. He was performing professionally as a solo pianist or as a member of various jazz and R&B groups by his mid-teens. Sun Ra took over leadership of a group in 1934 and renamed it the Sonny Blount Orchestra. Sun Ra led The Arkestra from the mid-1950s to his death May 30, 1993. He was one of the first jazz leaders to use two basses and electronic instruments. He was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1982 and was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1984. Sun Ra’s poetry and prose is available in “Sun Ra, The Immeasurable Equation”, published in 2005. His biography, “Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra”, was published in 1998.

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Today in Black History, 05/16/2015 | John Conyers, Jr., longest serving Congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives

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May 16, 1929 John Conyers, Jr., the longest serving Congressman in the United States House of Representatives, was born in Highland Park, Michigan. Conyers served in the United States Army from 1950 to 1954, serving one year in Korea where he was awarded combat and merit citations. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1957 and his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1958 from Wayne State University. He was first elected to Congress in 1964 and has been reelected 25 times. During his time in Congress, Conyers served as chairman of the House Government Operations Committee from 1989 to 1995 and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee from 2007 to 2011. He was a founding member and is currently the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus and he introduced the first bill in Congress to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday. Conyers received the 2007 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal.

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Today in Black History, 05/15/2015 | First African American Greek Lettered Organization

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May 15, 1904 Sigma Pi Phi, the first African American Greek lettered organization, was founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The organization was founded by four doctors because Black professionals did not have the opportunity to participate in professional and cultural associations organized by White professionals. The organization is known as the Boule which means a council of noblemen. Today, the organization has over 5,000 members in 126 chapters throughout the United States and the West Indies. Notable members have included Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Arthur Ashe, Vernon Jordan, L. Douglas Wilder, and John Lewis.

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Today in Black History, 05/14/2015 | Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights Trail

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 May 14, 1996 The Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights Trail was declared by Congress a United States National Historic Trail because of its national significance in American history. On March 7, 1965, the first Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama march, led by John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Reverend Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, with approximately 600 marchers was attacked by state and local police with billy clubs and tear gas at the Edmund Pettis Bridge. The televised images of the “Bloody Sunday” attack galvanized support for the Civil Rights Movement and approximately 8,000 marchers successfully completed the 54 mile march to Montgomery March 24, protected by 2,000 soldiers of the U. S. Army and 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard under federal command.

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Today in Black History, 05/13/2015 | Stevie Wonder

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May 13, 1950 Stevie Wonder, hall of fame singer, songwriter and record producer, was born Stevland Hardaway Judkins and blind in Saginaw, Michigan. Wonder began playing musical instruments at an early age and was signed by Motown Records in 1961 as Little Stevie Wonder. Wonder released his debut record, “I Call It Pretty Music, But the Old People Call It the Blues” in 1961 but his first big hit was the 1963 release of “Fingertips (Pt. 2).” Over his career, Wonder has sold more than 100 million albums, recorded more than 30 top ten hits, and won 26 Grammy Awards, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996. He also won the 1984 Academy Award for Best Original Song for “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” Wonder was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. He received the 1999 Polar Music Prize for “significant achievements in music” and Kennedy Center Honors in 1999. He received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. In 2009, Wonder became the second recipient of the Library of Congress’s Gershwin Prize for Popular Song and was named a Messenger of Peace by the United Nations. He was awarded the Commander of the Arts and Letters by the French government in 2010. Wonder is also noted for his work as an activist for political causes, including his successful 1980 campaign to make Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a national holiday in the United States. Wonder received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Barack H. Obama November 24, 2014. “Signed, Sealed and Delivered: The Soulful Journey of Stevie Wonder” was published in 2010.

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Today in Black History 05/12/2015 | Samuel “Toothpick Sam” Jones

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May 12, 1955 Samuel “Toothpick Sam” Jones became the first African American to pitch a no-hitter in the major leagues. He accomplished this while pitching for the Chicago Cubs against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Jones was born December 14, 1925 in Stewartsville, Ohio. He began his professional baseball career in the Negro leagues in 1947. He began his major league career with the Cleveland Indians in 1951. During his major league career, Jones pitched for a number of different teams and was a two-time National League All-Star, led the National League in strikeouts three times, and was named the 1959 National League Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News. Jones last year in the major leagues was 1964 and he retired from baseball in 1967 with a major league record of 102 wins and 101 losses. Jones died November 5, 1971.

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Today in Black History, 05/11/2015 | George Edmund Haynes

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May 11, 1880 George Edmund Haynes, sociologist, educator and author, was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas but raised in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Haynes earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Fisk University in 1903 and Master of Arts degree from Yale University in 1904. He began working for the Young Men’s Christian Association in the Colored Men’s Department in 1905. During 1905 and 1906, he visited almost all of the African American colleges in the South to assess Black higher education. He then moved to New York City where he became the first African American to graduate from the New York School of Philanthropy (now Columbia University School of Social Work) in 1910. Haynes became the first African American to earn a Ph. D. in economics from Columbia in 1912. He then became involved with organizations helping to ease the transition of African Americans moving from the South to New York City. Haynes co-founded the National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes (now National Urban League) in 1910 by merging the Association for the Protection of Colored Women, the Committee for Improving the Industrial Conditions of the Negroes of New York, and the Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes. He served as the first executive secretary of the organization from 1910 to 1917. Haynes served as director of Negro economics for the United States Secretary of Labor from 1918 to 1921. In 1921, he became the first executive secretary of the Department of Race Relations for the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, a position he held until his retirement in 1947. After retiring, Haynes taught one of the first African American history courses at a predominantly White institution at City University of New York. In 1948, he was appointed to the first board of the State University of New York. He published “Trends of the Races” in 1922 and “Africa, the Continent of the Future” in 1950. Haynes died January 8, 1960.

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Today in Black History, 05/10/2015 | Pickney Benton Stewart Pinchback

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May 10, 1837 Pickney Benton Stewart Pinchback, the first African American to become governor of a state in the United States, was born in Macon, Georgia. He made his way to New Orleans, Louisiana in 1862 and raised several companies of the Corps d’Afrique for the Union Army during the Civil War and was one of the few officers of African ancestry. Pinchback resigned his commission because of racial prejudice against Black officers. He was elected to the Louisiana State Senate in 1868 and became the acting Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana in 1871. The incumbent governor was removed from office and Pinchback became governor December 9, 1872 and served until January 13, 1873. During that brief 35 day period, he received vicious hate mail from around the country as well as threats on his life. After his governorship, Pinchback was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1874 and the U. S. Senate in 1876. Pinchback also served on the Louisiana State Board of Education and was instrumental in establishing Southern University and served on their board of trustees. President Chester A. Arthur appointed Pinchback surveyor of customs in New Orleans in 1882. Pinchback later moved to Washington, D. C. where he practiced law until his death December 21, 1921. His biography, “Pickney Benton Stewart Pinchback”, was published in 1973.

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