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Today in Black History, 3/7/2014

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• March 7, 1897 Harriet Ann Jacobs, author and abolitionist speaker, died. Jacobs was born enslaved February 11, 1813 in Edenton, North Carolina. As a young woman, she was sexually harassed by her owner and by 1835 the situation had become so unbearable that she decided to escape. She did so by hiding in her grandmother’s small attic for seven years before escaping to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1842. In 1849, Jacobs moved to Rochester, New York where she joined the Anti-Slavery Society and became more politicized. In 1861, she published her autobiography, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” which was popular among abolitionist. During the Civil War, Jacobs worked in Alexandria, Virginia to help organize, feed, and shelter Black people escaping slavery and the poor free Black people of the region. On January 11, 1864, the Jacobs Free School was opened. Jacobs also contributed to the building of hospitals, churches, schools, and homes for newly freed Black people.

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Today in Black History, 3/6/2014

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• March 6, 1857 The United States Supreme Court ruled in Dred Scott v. Sandford, commonly referred to as the Dred Scott decision, that people of African descent imported into the United States and enslaved, or their descendants, enslaved or free, were not protected by the Constitution and could never be citizens of the United States. It also ruled that because enslaved people were not citizens, they could not sue in court, that Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories and that enslaved people, as private property, could not be taken away from their owner without due process. “The Dred Scott Case: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Race and Law” (2010) provides a history of the case and its afterlife in American law and society.

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Today in Black History, 3/5/2014

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• March 5, 1770 Crispus Attucks, the first martyr of the American Revolution, was killed in the Boston Massacre. Attucks was born enslaved around 1723 and was of mixed African and Native American heritage. He escaped slavery in 1750 and by 1770 was a dockworker in Boston, Massachusetts. On the night of this date, he led a group of sailors against British soldiers who were occupying Boston. Attucks was the first of four men shot and killed during the fighting. On November 14, 1889, a monument honoring Attucks was dedicated on Boston Common. As an African American patriot, Attucks represents the 5,000 African Americans who fought for America’s independence. In 1998, the United States Treasury issued The Black Revolutionary War Patriots Silver Dollar featuring Attucks’ image on one side. There are a number of schools around the country named for Attucks, including the Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis, Indiana, the Attucks Middle School in Hollywood, Florida, and the Crispus Attucks Elementary School in Kansas City, Missouri. Attucks’ 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, 3/4/2014

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• March 4, 1842 James Forten, abolitionist and businessman, died. Forten was born September 2, 1766 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At 15, he served on a ship during the Revolutionary War and invented a device to handle ship sails. In 1786, he started a very successful sailmaking company and became one of the wealthiest African Americans in post-colonial America. Forten, with the help of Rev. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, enlisted 2,500 African Americans to defend Philadelphia during the War of 1812. They also worked together to establish the Convention of Color in 1817. By the 1830s, Forten was one of the most powerful voices for people of color throughout the North. In 1833, he helped William Lloyd Garrison and Robert Purvis form the American Anti-Slavery Society and provided generous financial support to the organization over the years. When Forten died, he left behind an exemplary family, a sizable fortune, and a legacy of philanthropy and activism that inspired generations of Black Philadelphians. On April 24, 1990, a historical marker was dedicated in his honor in Philadelphia. His biography, “A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten,” was published in 2002.

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Today in Black History, 3/3/2014

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• March 3, 1807 President Thomas Jefferson signed into law legislation to ban the importation of enslaved people effective January 1, 1808. While the law outlawed the importation of enslaved people to the United States, it did not end the buying and selling of enslaved people within the U. S. That would not occur until the end of the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution December 6, 1865.

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Today in Black History, 3/2/2014

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• March 2, 1932 Frank E. Petersen, Jr., the first African American Marine Corps aviator and the first African American Marine Corps general, was born in Topeka, Kansas. Petersen enlisted in the United States Navy in 1950 as a seaman apprentice. In 1952, after completing flight training, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. Petersen served combat tours in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, flying over 350 combat missions with over 4,000 hours in various flight attack aircraft. He was the first African American to command a fighter squadron, a fighter air group, an air wing, and a major base. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree and Master of Arts degree in international affairs from George Washington University in 1967 and 1973, respectively. In 1979, he was promoted to brigadier general, in 1983 to major general, and in 1986 to lieutenant general. Petersen retired from the Marine Corps in 1988. He then managed the corporate aviation fleet for DuPont DeNemours until retiring in 1997. Petersen published his autobiography, “Into the Tiger’s Jaws: America’s First Black Marine Aviator,” in 1998.

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Today in Black History, 3/1/2014

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• March 1, 1841 Blanche Kelso Bruce, the first elected African American United States Senator to serve a full term, was born enslaved in Prince Edward County, Virginia. Because his father was White, he was able to legally free Bruce and arrange for a trade apprenticeship. In 1864, Bruce moved to Missouri where he established a school for Black children. During the Reconstruction Period, he became a wealthy landowner in the Mississippi Delta. Over the years, he won elections in Bolivar County, Mississippi to sheriff, tax collector, and supervisor of education. In 1874, he was elected by the state legislature to the U. S. Senate where he served until 1881. In 1881, Bruce was appointed by President James Garfield to be Register of the Treasury, making him the first African American whose signature appeared on United States paper currency. Bruce served on the Board of Trustees of Howard University from 1894 to his death March 17, 1898. The Blanche K. Bruce House in Washington, D. C. was declared a National Historic Landmark May 15, 1975 and the Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy School District in Detroit, Michigan is named in his honor. An account of Bruce’s political life and that of his descendents is given in “The Senator and the Socialite: The True Story of America’s First Black Dynasty” (2006).

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Today in Black History, 2/28/2014

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• February 28, 1894 Ernest Judson Wilson, hall of fame Negro league baseball player and manager, was born in Remington, Virginia. Wilson’s professional career spanned from 1922 to 1945 and he had a career batting average of .351, ranking among the top five hitters in the league. After retiring from baseball, he worked for a road crew in Washington, D. C. Wilson died June 24, 1963. He was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

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Today in Black History, 2/27/2014

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• February 27, 1830 Patrick Francis Healy, the first American of African ancestry to be president of a predominantly White college, was born enslaved in Macon, Georgia. Although he was at least three-quarters European in ancestry, Healy was legally considered a slave and Georgia law prohibited the education of enslaved people. Therefore, Healy’s father arranged for him to move north to obtain an education. Healy graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in 1850 and entered the Jesuit order. In 1858, the order sent him to Europe to study because his African ancestry had become an issue in the United States. He earned his doctorate from the University of Leuven in Belgium, the first American of African descent to earn a Ph. D. Healy was ordained to the priesthood September 3, 1864, the first Jesuit priest of African descent. In 1866, Healy returned to the U. S. and began teaching at Georgetown University. On July 31, 1874, he was named president of the institution. During his tenure, he helped transform the small 19th century college into a major university for the 20th century. He modernized the curriculum and expanded and upgraded the schools of law and medicine. He also oversaw the construction of Healy Hall which was designated a National Historic Landmark December 23, 1987. He left the college in 1882. Healy died January 10, 1910. In 1969, the Georgetown Alumni Association established the Patrick Healy Award to recognize people who have “distinguished themselves by a lifetime of outstanding achievement and service to Georgetown, the community and his or her profession.” Patrick Francis Healy Middle School in East Orange, New Jersey is named in his honor. “Passing for White: Race, Religion, and the Healy Family, 1820-1920” was published in 2003.

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Today in Black History, 2/26/2014

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• February 26, 1844 James Edward O’Hara, lawyer and congressman, was born in New York City. O’Hara studied law in North Carolina and at Howard University and served as a clerk for the 1868 North Carolina state convention that drafted a new state constitution. In 1871, he completed his law apprenticeship and passed the North Carolina bar exam. From 1872 to 1876, O’Hara served as chairman of the board of commissioners for Halifax, North Carolina and from 1883 to 1887 served in the United States House of Representatives. During his time in Congress, O’Hara introduced one of the first bills to make lynching a federal crime. He also introduced a bill to prohibit gender based salary discrimination in education. After being defeated for reelection, he resumed his private law practice. O’Hara died September 15, 1905.

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Today in Black History, 2/25/2014

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• February 25, 1837 Cheyney University, the oldest institution of higher learning for African Americans, was founded in Cheyney, Pennsylvania west of Philadelphia. At its founding, the university was named the African Institute however the name was changed several weeks later to the Institute for Colored Youth. In subsequent years, the school was named Cheyney Training School for Teachers, Cheyney StateTeacher’s College, and Cheyney State College. Today, the university has approximately 1,300 undergraduate students, 180 graduate students, and 125 faculty members. Notable alumni include Bayard Rustin, Ed Bradley, Robert W. Bogle, Congressman Curt Weldon, and Ambassador Joseph M. Segars.

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Today in Black History, 2/24/2014

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• February 24, 1811 Daniel Alexander Payne, clergyman, educator, college administrator and author, was born in Charleston, South Carolina. While studying at home, Payne taught himself mathematics, physical science, and classical languages. In 1829, he opened his first school which he was forced to close in 1835 after South Carolina enacted a law making teaching literacy to free and enslaved people of color subject to imprisonment. In 1840, Payne joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church and in 1852 was elected a bishop. In 1856, Payne was a founding member of the board of directors of Wilberforce University which was sponsored by the AME denomination to provide collegiate education to African Americans. Payne served as president of the university from 1865 to 1877. Payne authored his memoir, “Recollections of Seventy Years,” in 1888 and “The History of the A. M. E. Church” in 1891. Payne died November 2, 1893. Daniel Payne College, a historically Black college in Alabama that closed in 1979, was named in his honor. Payne Theological Seminary in Wilberforce, Ohio is also named in his honor.

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Today in Black History, 2/23/2014

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• February 23, 1868 William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, civil rights activist, historian and author, was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. In 1888, Du Bois earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Fisk University. He went on to Harvard University where he earned another Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude, in 1890, his Master of Arts degree in 1891, and his Ph. D. in 1895, the first African American to earn a doctorate at the university. Du Bois authored 22 books, including “The Philadelphia Negro” (1899), “The Souls of Black Folks” (1903), and “Black Folks, Then and Now” (1939), and helped establish four academic journals. Du Bois was the most prominent intellectual leader and political activist on behalf of African Americans in the first half of the 20th century. In 1909, he helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and for 25 years served as the editor-in-chief of The Crisis magazine. Du Bois was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 1920. In 1963, Du Bois and his wife became citizens of Ghana where he died April 27, 1963. After his death, the Ghanaian government honored him with a state funeral and the W. E. B. Du Bois Memorial Centre which is located in the Cantonments district of Accra. The site of the house where Du Bois grew up in Great Barrington was designated a National Historic Landmark May 11, 1976 and in 1992 the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor. Several structures at universities around the country are named in his honor. The many books about Du Bois include “W. E. B. Du Bois: Negro Leader in a Time of Crisis” (1959) and “W. E. B. Du Bois, American Prophet” (2007). Du Bois’ 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, 2/22/2014

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• February 22, 1839 Octavius Valentine Catto, educator and civil rights activist, was born in Charleston, South Carolina but raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Catto graduated from the Institute for Colored Youth (now Cheyney University) in 1858. He did a year of post-graduate work, including private tutoring in Greek and Latin and then returned to ICY to teach English and mathematics. In an 1864 commencement address, Catto spoke on the potential insensitivity of White teachers to the needs and interest of African American students. He stated, “It is at least unjust to allow a blind and ignorant prejudice to so far disregard the choice of parents and the will of the colored tax-payers, as to appoint over colored children white teachers, whose intelligence and success, measured by the fruits of their labors, could neither obtain or secure for them positions which we know would be more congenial to their tastes.” Also in 1864, he was elected corresponding secretary of the Pennsylvania Equal Rights League. He also served as vice president of the State Convention of Colored People in 1865. During the Civil War, Catto helped raise eleven regiments of United States Colored Troops in the Philadelphia area and was commissioned a major. On Election Day, October 10, 1871, Black voters faced intimidation and violence from White people opposed to their voting. On his way to vote, Catto was harassed and shot dead. The man that shot him was not convicted. The Octavius V. Catto Community School in Camden, New Jersey is named in his honor and the Major Octavius V. Catto Medal is awarded by the Philadelphia National Guard.

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Young Thurgood: The Making of a Supreme Court Justice; free lecture & book signing features the only biography endorsed by Marshall’s family

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Young-ThurgoodProfessor and scholar Dr. Larry S. Gibson will discuss and sign copies of his latest book, Young Thurgood: The Making of a Supreme Court Justice, the only biography on the celebrated jurist Thurgood Marshall to be endorsed by his family. This free takes place Saturday, March 1, 2014, at 2 pm at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, located at 315 East Warren Avenue in Detroit.

Young Thurgood: The Making of a Supreme Court Justice is an exhaustively researched and engagingly written work that will be of interest to any everyone interested in law, civil rights, and American history. Thurgood Marshall was the most important American lawyer of the twentieth century. He transformed the nation's legal landscape by challenging the racial segregation that had relegated millions to second-class citizenship. He won twenty-nine of thirty-three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, was a federal appeals court judge, served as the U.S. solicitor general, and, for twenty-four years, sat on the U.S. Supreme Court. But Marshall's personality, attitudes, priorities, and work habits had crystallized during earlier years in Maryland.

Young Thurgood is the first close examination of the formative period in Marshall's life. Dr. Gibson presents fresh information about Marshall's family, youth, and education. He describes Marshall's key mentors, the special impact of his high school and college competitive debating, his struggles to establish a law practice during the Great Depression, and his first civil rights cases. The author also sheds new light on the NAACP and its first lawsuits in the campaign that led to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision, and corrects some of the often-repeated stories about Marshall that are inaccurate.

About the Author

Larry S. Gibson is a professor of law at the University of Maryland, Francis King Carey School of Law, where he teaches Evidence, Election Law, Race and the Law, and Civil Procedure. Gibson is a graduate of Howard University and Columbia University School of Law and has practiced law in Maryland. Also a civil rights activist and advocate, Gibson participated in the 1963 March on Washington, engaged in sit-in demonstrations, and lobbied for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He has also acted as legal counsel to several civil rights organizations and leaders.

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Today in Black History, 2/21/2014

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• February 21, 1864 St. Francis Xavier Church in East Baltimore, Maryland, the first Catholic Church in the United States officially established for Negroes, was dedicated. In July, 1791, between 500 and 1,000 Black people fleeing the Haitian Revolution had arrived in Baltimore on six French ships. Most of them were free, wealthy, educated, Catholic, and spoke fluent French. In October, 1863, a group of the refugees purchased the church. By 1871, the church was very active with three Sunday masses, a home for the aged poor, an orphanage, a night school for adults, an industrial school, and a lending library. The church moved to its current location in Baltimore in 1968 and continues to operate today.

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Today in Black History, 2/20/2014

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• February 20, 1895 Frederick Douglass, abolitionist, women’s suffragist, editor, author and statesman, died. Douglass was born enslaved February 14, 1818 in Tuckahoe, Maryland and named Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. Douglass taught himself to read and write and in 1838 escaped from slavery. Douglass delivered his first abolitionist speech at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society’s annual convention in 1841. In 1845, he published his autobiography, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,” and within three years it had been reprinted nine times and there were 11,000 copies in circulation. From 1845 to 1847, Douglass lectured throughout the United Kingdom to enthusiastic crowds. During that time, he became officially free when his freedom was purchased by British supporters. After returning to the United States, he began producing The North Star and other newspapers. In 1848, he attended the first women’s rights convention and declared that he could not accept the right to vote himself as a Black man if women could not also claim that right. During the Civil War, Douglass helped the Union Army as a recruiter for the 54th Massachusetts Regiment and after the war served as president of the Freedman’s Savings Bank, marshal of the District of Columbia, minister-resident and consul-general to the Republic of Haiti, and charge d’affaires for the Dominican Republic. In 1877, Douglass bought Cedar Hill in Washington, D. C. which was designated the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site February 12, 1988. In 1965, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor and numerous streets, schools, and other buildings are named in his honor. The many biographies of Douglass include “Slave and Citizen: The Life of Frederick Douglass” (1980) and “Frederick Douglass, Autobiography” (1994). Douglass’ 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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Liberation Film Series presents "Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice;" free film screening and discussion highlight fight against lynching, past and present

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IdaBWells-APassionForJustice-nocrops-1On the heels of the conviction of Michael Dunn for three counts of attempted second-degree murder, and a mistrial in the first-degree murder charge for the death of Jordan Davis, the February installment of the Liberation Film Series features the documentary, Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice, focused on Ms. Wells’ mission which remains relevant today given the tragic results of contemporary “stand your ground” laws, racial profiling, stop-and-frisk police tactics, the escalating incarceration of black males, and the culture of violence with which American communities continue to struggle. The film will be followed by a discussion led by Dr. Melba Joyce Boyd, Distinguished Professor and Chair of Africana Studies, Wayne State University, entitled, “Our Strongest Voice Against the Ubiquitous Lynching of Black America.” This free event takes place Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 2 pm at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, located at 315 East Warren Avenue in Detroit.

Passion for Justice provides an overview of the life of Ida Bell Wells Barnett (1862 - 1931).  Born into slavery on July 16, 1862, in Holly Springs, Mississippi, she became one of the leading African American journalists and activists of her time. She came into the national spotlight in 1884, when she refused to give up her seat on a train and had to be ejected by two men.  She sued the railroad company for discrimination and won, but this decision was subsequently overturned by a higher court.

Wells’ stand against discrimination and racial violence became the mantra for her activist journalism, especially on the subject of lynching. She was the co-owner of the Memphis Free Press, and in 1892 when three of her friends, Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Henry Stewart, were lynched because their small grocery store had taken away customers from a competing white business, Wells reported the crime in her paper. Consequently, her printing equipment was destroyed by a mob and her life publically threatened in an article that appeared in the Memphis daily newspaper. Forced into exile, she began writing for Thomas T. Fortune’s newspaper, The New York Age, under the pseudonym “Iola.”

After she married Attorney Ferdinand Barnett and permanently moved to Chicago, she became the editor of The Conservator, a newspaper Barnett had previously owned and operated. Throughout her life Ida B. Wells advocated for equal rights for blacks and for women. She was a part of the leadership of major activist organizations, alongside persons such as Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Frances E.W. Harper, and W.E.B. Du Bois. She even sought elected office later in life. Her name is the one most often associated with the fight against lynching and other terrorist activities that threatened and undermined the African American community during the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. 

Directed by William Greaves, Passion for Justice has appeared on public television stations and in classrooms throughout the nation and internationally. It provides an excellent introduction and overview of Wells’ dynamic life and the critical roles she played to advance democratic and economic rights from African Americans and women.

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, 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, 2/19/2014

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• February 19, 1872 Robert Elijah Jones, the first African American general superintendent for the Methodist Episcopal Church, was born in Greensboro, North Carolina. Jones entered the ministry and was licensed to preach at 19. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Bennett College in 1895 and his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Gammon Theological Seminary in 1897. From 1897 to 1901, he served as assistant manager of the Southwestern Christian Advocate, an African American newspaper published by the Methodist Church. In 1904, Jones was elected editor of the Advocate, a position he held for the next 16 years. In 1908, he was elected to the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church and was the only African American minister on the Joint Commission on the Unification of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church South. Jones was elected general superintendent in 1920 and became resident bishop of the New Orleans area responsible for 1,905 churches. In 1923, Jones founded the Gulfside Assembly which purchased a large piece of land along the Gulf Coast. This was the only location along the Gulf Coast accessible to African Americans for recreational purposes. Jones was president of the Negro Business League in Louisiana, helped found the Dryades Street YMCA, and was prominent in the establishment of the Flint-Goodridge Hospital. He was also chairman of the board of Wiley and Sam Houston Colleges and one of the founding trustees of Dillard University. Jones received several honorary doctorate degrees, including Doctor of Law degrees from Howard University in 1911, Morgan College in 1937, and Lincoln University in 1940. He retired from the ministry in 1944. Jones died May 18, 1960.

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Today in Black History, 2/18/2014

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• February 18, 1874 James H. Harris was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, for his actions during the Civil War. Harris was born in 1828 in Saint Mary’s County, Maryland. He worked as a farmer before enlisting in the Union Army in 1864 as a private in Company B of the 38th Regiment United States Colored Troops. He was quickly promoted to corporal and then to sergeant. At the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, September 29, 1864, Harris’ regiment was among a division of Black troops assigned to attack the center of the Confederate defenses at New Market Heights. The attack was met with intense Confederate fire, killing, capturing or wounding over 50 percent of the Black troops, and stalling the effort. When a renewed effort began, Harris and two other men ran at the head of the assault and were the first to breach the Confederate defenses and engage them in hand to hand combat. That attack was successful and the Confederate forces were routed. Not much else is known of Harris’ life after the war except that he died January 28, 1898 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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