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Today in Black History, 5/20/2014

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• May 20, 1743 Francois-Dominique Toussaint L’Ouverture, Haitian patriot and revolutionary leader, was born enslaved 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, to abolish slavery, and secure native control over the colony. 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 April 7, 1803. 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 Arna Bontemps’ “Drums at Dusk” (1939) 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, 5/19/2014

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• May 19, 1885 John Percial Parker received patent number 318,285 for a Portable Screw Press, popularly known as the Parker Pulverizer. Parker was born February 2, 1827 in Norfolk, Virginia. At eight, he was sold into slavery. By 1845, he had earned enough money to buy his freedom for $1,800. As a free man, he became involved in abolitionist activities and aided in the freeing of over a thousand enslaved people. During the Civil War, Parker served as a recruiter for the Union Army and supplied castings for the war effort. In 1854, Parker established the Ripley Foundry and Machine Company and received patent number 304,552 for the Follower-Screw for Tobacco Presses September 2, 1884. Parker’s foundry employed more than 25 workers and remained in operation until 1918, well after his death February 4, 1900. His home in Ripley, Ohio was designated a National Historic Landmark February 18, 1997. Parker’s autobiography, “His Promised Land: The Autobiography of John Parker, Former Slave and Conductor on the Underground Railroad,” was published in 1996.

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Today in Black History, 5/18/2014

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• May 18, 1838 Alexander Miles, barber and inventor, was born in Ohio. Miles moved to Waukesha, Wisconsin where he earned a living as a barber. He subsequently moved to Winona, Minnesota and Duluth, Minnesota. While in Duluth, he received patent number 371, 207 October 11, 1887 for an improved automatic opening and closing elevator door. Prior to his invention, elevator patrons or operators were often required to manually shut the door to cut off access to the elevator shaft. Sometimes people would neglect to close the door and people would fall down the elevator shaft. By 1900, Miles had moved to Chicago, Illinois where he started an insurance agency for Black people. He later moved to Seattle, Washington where he was considered “the wealthiest colored man in the Northwest.” Miles died May 7, 1918.

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Today in Black History, 5/17/2014

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• May 17, 1864 John William “Blind” Boone, pianist and ragtime music composer, was born near Miami, Missouri. When he was six months old, doctors removed his eyes in an attempt to cure his brain fever. Boone’s musical talents were recognized early and in 1872 he was sent to the St. Louis School for the Blind to study piano. In 1880, his professional career was launched after he played in a concert with the famous pianist, Blind Tom. After that, Boone played thousands of concerts in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. During his lifetime, Boone was a committed philanthropist who supported local causes and opened his home to the community. He donated generously to several churches and gave his time and talent to local youth. Boone died October 4, 1927. His home in Columbia, Missouri was listed on the National Register of Historic Places September 4, 1980. The John William Boone Heritage Foundation was founded to preserve the history of Blind Boone and Blind Boone Park in Warrensburg, Missouri is named in his honor. His biography, “Blind Boone: Missouri’s Ragtime Pioneer,” was published in 1998.

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Today in Black History, 5/16/2014

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• May 16, 1840 James Milton Turner, politician and Consul to Liberia, was born enslaved in St. Louis, Missouri. Turner and his parents were freed when he was young but he still had limited educational opportunities because Missouri laws restricted Black people from learning to read. Despite the legal obstacles, Turner learned to read and briefly attended Oberlin College. After the Civil War, he became a prominent politician known for his speaking ability. He worked for the Missouri Department of Education, establishing over 30 new schools in the state for African Americans, and providing support for Lincoln Institute (now Lincoln University). In 1871, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Turner United States Minister to Liberia, the first African American to hold that position. After returning from Liberia in 1878, Turner organized the Colored Emigration Aid Association to provide assistance to Black people migrating from the South. Turner died November 1, 1915. His biography, “James Milton Turner and the Promise of America: The Public Life of a Post-Civil War Leader,” was published in 1991.

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Today in Black History, 5/15/2014

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• May 15, 1868 George Henry Wanton, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Paterson, New Jersey. By June 30, 1898, he was serving as a private in the 10th Calvary Regiment (Buffalo Soldiers) in the Spanish – American War. On that day, American forces aboard the USS Florida near Tayacoba, Cuba dispatched a small landing party to provide reconnaissance on Spanish outposts in the area. The party was discovered and came under heavy fire. Their boats were sunk, leaving them stranded on shore. After four failed attempts, Wanton and three other members of the 10th Calvary successfully found and rescued the surviving members of the landing party. In recognition of his actions, Wanton was awarded the medal, America’s highest military decoration June 23, 1899. Wanton continued to serve in the military and reached the rank of master sergeant and served in the Quartermaster Corps before retiring. Wanton died November 27, 1940 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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Today in Black History, 5/14/2014

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• May 14, 1861 Alfred Oscar Coffin, the first African American to earn a Ph. D. in the biological sciences, was born in Pontotoc, Mississippi. Coffin earned his bachelor’s degree from Fisk University in 1885 and his Ph. D. in biology from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1889. From 1887 to 1898, he taught at Alcorn A&M College and Wiley University. From 1898 to 1909, he was a public school principal in Texas and Missouri. He ended his teaching career as a romance language professor at Langston University. Coffin published two books, “Origin of the Mound Builders” in 1889 and “Land Without Chimneys, Or The Byways of Mexico” in 1896, the first significant book on Latin America published by an African American. Coffin died in 1933.

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Today in Black History, 5/13/2014

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• May 13, 1831 Edward Park Duplex, the first African American mayor in the western United States, was born in New Haven, Connecticut. In 1854, Duplex moved to Marysville, California where he became a prominent business and civic leader. In 1855, he was a representative to the first California Colored Citizens Convention and the following year served on the convention’s executive committee. In 1875, Duplex moved to Wheatland, California where he established a successful hair care business. On April 11, 1888 the Wheatland Board of Trustees elected Duplex Mayor of Wheatland. Duplex died January 5, 1900. The building that housed his business still stands today. The “History of Yuba and Sutter Counties” named Duplex as “a man who helped make Wheatland.”

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Today in Black History, 5/12/2014

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• May 12, 1906 William “Gorilla” Jones, hall of fame boxer, was born in Memphis, Tennessee. Jones started boxing professionally in 1923 and won the World Middleweight Boxing Championship in 1925. He retired in 1940 with a record of 101 wins, 24 losses, and 13 draws. After retiring, he served as a chauffeur and bodyguard for the movie star Mae West and from the late 1940s to the 1970s trained other boxers. Jones died January 4, 1982. He was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2009.

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Today in Black History, 5/11/2014

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• May 11, 1895 William Grant Still, “the dean” of African American classical composers, was born in Woodville, Mississippi but raised in Little Rock, Arkansas. Still started taking violin lessons at 15 and taught himself to play a number of other instruments. Still attended Wilberforce University where he conducted the university band and started to compose. He also studied at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. After serving in the United States Navy during World War I, he worked as an arranger for W. C. Handy and later played in the pit orchestra for the musical “Shuffle Along.” In 1934, Still was the recipient of the first Guggenheim Fellowship. On July 23, 1936, he conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, the first African American to conduct a major American orchestra. On March 31, 1949, his opera “Troubled Island” (1939) was performed by the New York City Opera, the first opera by an African American to be performed by a major opera company. Despite selling out the first three nights and receiving 22 curtain calls on opening night, the opera was shut down, never to be staged again. “Just Tell the Story: Troubled Island” (2006) delves into some of the reason why. Still eventually moved to Los Angeles, California where he arranged music for films, including “Pennies from Heaven” (1936) and “Lost Horizon” (1937). He received honorary doctorate degrees from a number of institutions, including Oberlin College, Howard University, the New England Conservatory of Music, and the University of Southern California. Still died December 3, 1978. On June 15, 1981, his opera “A Bayou Legend” became the first opera by an African American to be performed on national television when it premiered on PBS. His biography, “In One Lifetime: A Biography of William Grant Still,” was published in 1984.

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Today in Black History, 5/10/2014

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• May 10, 1815 Henry Walton Bibb, author and abolitionist, was born enslaved in Shelby County, Kentucky. In 1837, Bibb escaped to Cincinnati, Ohio but was captured when he returned to free his wife. In 1842, he escaped to Detroit, Michigan. After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required Northerners to cooperate in the capture of previously enslaved people, Bibb moved to Windsor, Canada. In 1851, he established the first Black newspaper in Canada, “The Voice of the Fugitive.” The paper promoted the abolitionist movement and provided information to parties on the Underground Railroad. Bibb and his wife also helped establish the Refugee Home Society which created settlements and assisted previously enslaved Black people who escaped to Canada. Bibb published his autobiography, “Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave,” in 1848. Bibb died August 1, 1854.

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Today in Black History, 5/9/2014

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• May 9, 1919 James Reese Europe, ragtime and jazz bandleader, arranger and composer, died. Europe was born February 22, 1881 in Mobile, Alabama and moved to New York City in 1904. In 1910, Europe organized the Clef Club, a society for African Americans in the music industry. In 1912, they made history as the first band to play proto-jazz at Carnegie Hall when they played a concert for the benefit of the Colored Music Settlement School. The band played music written solely by Black composers. In 1913 and 1914, Europe made a series of recordings that are some of the best examples of the pre-jazz ragtime style of the 1910s. During World War I, Europe saw combat as a lieutenant with the Harlem Hellfighters and went on to direct the regimental band to great acclaim. After his return to the United States in 1919, he stated “I have come from France more firmly convinced than ever that Negros should write Negro music. We have our own racial feelings and if we try to copy Whites we will make bad copies.” At the time of his death, Europe was the best known African American bandleader in the U. S. and was granted the first ever public funeral for an African American in New York City. His biography, “A Lifetime in Ragtime: A Biography of James Reese Europe,” was published in 1995.

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Today in Black History, 5/8/2014

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• May 8, 1753 Phillis Wheatley, the first African American woman to have her work published, was born in Senegal, West Africa. Wheatley was enslaved at seven. She was tutored by her owners and learned to read and write. In 1773, her book “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral” was published in London, England and immediately brought her fame. As a result of her fame, she was emancipated by her owners and went on to publish other poems. Wheatley died December 5, 1784. Today there is a building named in her honor at the University of Massachusetts and a statue of her is one of three included in the Boston Women’s Memorial unveiled October 25, 2003. Her biography, “Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley, a Native African and Slave,” was published in 1834. In 2012, Robert Morris University named their School of Communications and Information Systems building in her honor. Wheatley’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, 5/7/2014

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• May 7, 1845 Mary Eliza Mahoney, hall of fame nurse and the first African American registered nurse in the United States, was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Mahoney worked at the New England Hospital for Women and Children for fifteen years before being accepted into its nursing school. On August 1, 1879, Mahoney earned her nursing degree. In 1908, she co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses and from 1911 to 1912 served as director of the Howard Orphan Asylum for Black Children. Mahoney was also a strong advocate for women’s equality and women’s suffrage. In 1920, she was one of the first women in Boston, Massachusetts to register to vote. Mahoney died January 4, 1926. She was posthumously inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame in 1976 and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993. The Mary Mahoney Award is bestowed biennially by the ANA in recognition of significant contributions in advancing equal opportunity in nursing for minority groups. The Mary Eliza Mahoney Dialysis Center in Boston and the Mary Mahoney Lecture Series at Indiana University are named in her honor.

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Today in Black History, 5/6/2014

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• May 6, 1812 Martin Robinson Delany, abolitionist and the first African American field officer in the United States Army, was born in Charles Town, West Virginia. Because it was illegal to teach Black people to read or write, he and his siblings taught themselves. In 1835, Delany became more actively involved in political matters and attended his first Negro Conference. In 1843, he began publishing “The Mystery,” a Black controlled newspaper, and on December 3, 1847, together with Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, began publishing the “North Star” newspaper. In the 1850s, Delany became convinced that White people would not allow deserving persons of color to become leaders in society and in his book, “The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Politically Considered” (1852), argued that Black people had no future in the United States and should leave and found a new nation elsewhere. In 1863, Delany began recruiting Black men for the Union Army to fight in the Civil War, raising thousands of enlistees, and in 1865 was commissioned as a major, the first Black field officer in the U. S. Army. Following the war and the demise of the Reconstruction Period, Delany helped form the Liberia Exodus Joint Stock Steamship Company with the intent to immigrate to Africa. However, he had to withdraw from the project due to family obligations. Delany died January 24, 1885. His biography, “Martin R. Delany: The Beginnings of Black Nationalism,” was published in 1971.

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Today in Black History, 5/5/2014

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• May 5, 1883 Josiah Henson, author, abolitionist and minister, died. Henson was born enslaved June 15, 1789 in Charles County, Maryland. In 1830, after trying to buy his freedom and being cheated out of his money, Henson escaped with his wife and children to Canada. After arriving in Ontario, he founded The Dawn Settlement and a laborer’s school for other previously enslaved fugitives. The settlement prospered, reaching a population of 500 and exporting lumber to the United States and Britain. Henson also became a Methodist preacher, abolitionist, and served in the Canadian army as an officer. Henson had three autobiographies published, “The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as narrated by Him” (1849), “Truth Stranger Than Fiction, Father Henson’s Story of His Own Life” (1858), and “Uncle Tom’s Story of His Life: An Autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson” (1876). Henson was the first Black man to be featured on a Canadian stamp and also was recognized by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in 1999 as a National Historic Person. A federal plaque honoring him is located at the Henson family cemetery. Henson’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, 5/4/2014

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• May 4, 1891 Provident Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, the first Black owned and operated hospital in the United States, was established by Dr. Daniel Hale Williams. At that time, Black physicians had limited or no hospital privileges and nursing schools in Chicago did not admit Black students. The original building housed 12 beds. By 1897, the hospital was moved to a larger building, had 189 patients, and an outpatient clinic that treated 6,000 patients. In the early 1930s, Provident purchased a seven-story building, built a four-story outpatient clinic, and purchased two apartment buildings to house student nurses. Provident was forced to close in 1987 due to financial difficulties but reopened in 1997 as part of Cook County’s Bureau of Health Services.

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Today in Black History, 5/3/2014

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• May 3, 1898 Septima Poinsette Clark, “grandmother of the Civil Rights Movement,” was born in Charleston, South Carolina. As an African American, Clark was barred from teaching in the Charleston public school system, therefore she began teaching on John’s Island. In 1919, she returned to Charleston to teach at Avery Normal Institute, a private academy for Black children, and became active with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. From 1929 to 1947, Clark taught in the Columbia, South Carolina public school system. During that time, she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Benedict College in 1942 and her Master of Arts degree from Hampton Institute in 1946. In 1956, Clark became vice president of the Charleston branch of the NAACP. That same year, the South Carolina legislature passed a law banning city or state employees from being involved with civil rights organizations. Clark refused to leave the NAACP and was fired from her teaching position. Beginning in 1954, Clark was active with the Highlander Folk School where she ran an adult literacy program. One of the participants in her workshops was Rosa Parks. In response to Southern states which required literacy and knowledge of the United States constitution in order to register to vote, Clark established “Citizenship Schools” throughout the Deep South. The program became so large that it was transferred to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Clark became SCLC’s director of education and training. Clark retired from the SCLC in 1970 and from 1974 to 1982 served on the Charleston County School Board, the first Black female member. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter presented Clark a Living Legend Award. Her autobiography, “Ready From Within: Septima Clark and the Civil Rights Movement,” was published in 1986. Clark died December 15, 1987.

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Today in Black History, 5/2/2014

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• May 2, 1843 Elijah J. McCoy, hall of fame engineer and inventor, was born in Colchester, Ontario, Canada. His parents had escaped enslavement to Canada. McCoy studied engineering in Edinburgh, Scotland and after returning to Canada found work with the Michigan Central Railroad. On July 12, 1872, he received patent number 129,843 for “Improvements in Lubricators for Steam-Engines.” This was a boon for railroads because it allowed trains to run faster and more profitably with less need to stop for lubrication and maintenance. McCoy continued to invent until late in his life, receiving 57 patents mostly related to lubrication but also including a folding ironing board and a lawn sprinkler. In 1920, he formed the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company. McCoy died October 10, 1929. In 1975, a Michigan historical marker was placed at the site of his Detroit, Michigan home and Elijah McCoy Drive in Detroit was named in his honor. In 2001, he was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and in 2006 the play “The Real McCoy” was written which chronicled his life and inventions. His biography, also titled “The Real McCoy,” was published in 2007. McCoy’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, 5/1/2014

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• May 1, 1866 The Memphis Riots of 1866 began after a shooting altercation between White policemen and Black Soldiers recently mustered out of the Union Army in Memphis, Tennessee. For three days, mobs of White civilians and policemen rampaged through Black neighborhoods. A report by a joint Congressional Committee detailed 46 Black people and 2 White people killed, 75 persons injured, over 100 persons robbed, 5 women raped, and 91 homes, 4 churches, and 8 schools burned. No criminal charges were ever brought against any of the perpetrators of atrocities committed during the riots. The riots did result in major changes toward modernization of the city’s police force.

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