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Today in Black History, 10/1/2012

• October 1, 1799 John Brown Russwurm, abolitionist and newspaper editor, was born enslaved in Port Antonio, Jamaica. In 1807, Russwurm was sent by his white father to Quebec to go to school and in 1812 he moved with his father to Portland, Maine. He graduated from Hebron Academy in his early twenties and taught at an African American school in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1826, Russwurm earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Bowdoin College, becoming the first African American to graduate from Bowdoin. In 1827, Russwurm moved to New York City and along with his co-editor, Samuel Cornish, published the first edition of Freedom’s Journal, an abolitionist newspaper dedicated to opposing slavery, on March 16, 1827. Freedom’s Journal was the first newspaper in the United States to be owned and operated by African Americans. In 1829, Russwurm immigrated to Liberia where he served as the colonial secretary for the American Colonization Society until 1834. He also worked as editor of the Liberia Herald and served as the superintendent of education. In 1836, he became the first black Governor of the Maryland section of Liberia, a post he held until his death on June 17, 1851. There is a statue of Russwurm at his burial site in Liberia. Biographies of Russwurm include “John Brown Russwurm” (1970) and “The Struggles of John Brown Russwurm: The Life of a Pan-Africanist Pioneer, 1799-1851” (2010).

• October 1, 1890 Augustus Walley received the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration for his actions on August 16, 1881. On that date, Walley was serving as a private in Company I of the 9th Cavalry Regiment when he participated in an engagement in the Cuchillo Negro Mountains of New Mexico. He was cited for “bravery in action with hostile Apaches” for helping rescue stranded soldiers under heavy fire. Walley was born enslaved on March 10, 1856 in Reistertown, Maryland. He was freed at the end of the Civil War in 1865 and enlisted in the United States Army in 1978. After receiving the medal, he remained in the army until 1907, serving in the Spanish–American and Philippine–American Wars. He was recalled to duty during World War I and reached the rank of first sergeant before retiring in 1919. Walley died April 9, 1938.

• October 1, 1897 Virginia Proctor Powell Florence, the first black woman to earn a degree in library science in the United States, was born in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania. Florence earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature from Oberlin College in 1919. After much debate, she was allowed admission to the Pittsburgh Carnegie Library School (now the University of Pittsburgh School of Information Sciences). During her training, she was not allowed to interact with white patrons and she was instructed to allow a white student to answer any questions patrons would have. Despite this discrimination, she graduated in 1923. Following graduation, Florence worked for the New York Public Library system until 1927 when she became the first African American to pass the New York high school librarians examination and was appointed librarian at a high school in Brooklyn. She subsequently worked in high schools in Washington, D. C. and Richmond, Virginia before retiring in 1965. In 1981, Florence was honored by the University of Pittsburgh with a Special Award for Outstanding Professional Service. Florence died in 1991 and in 2004 the University of Pittsburgh placed a plaque in her honor in the lobby of the Information Sciences Building.

• October 1, 1939 George Robert Carruthers, hall of fame physicist and inventor, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Carruthers earned his Bachelor of Science degree in physics in 1961, his Master of Science degree in nuclear engineering in 1962, and his Ph. D. in aeronautical and astronautical engineering in 1964 from the University of Illinois. He has spent his career in the Space Science Division of the Naval Research Laboratory developing space telescopes and other photometric instruments. On November 11, 1969 Carruthers was awarded patent number 3,478,216 for his Image Converter for Detecting Electromagnetic Radiation which was flown to the moon on the 1972 Apollo 16 mission to obtain images of earth and outer space. Carruthers is also active with Science, Mathematics, Aerospace, Research and Technology (SMART), which encourages black teachers and students to pursue science and technology. Carruthers received an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree from Michigan Technology University in 1973, was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2003, and in 2009 was honored as Distinguished Lecturer at the Office of Naval Research for his achievements in the field of space science. Since 1983, Carruthers has chaired the Editing and Review Committee and served as editor of the Journal of the National Technical Association and since 2002 has taught a course in earth and space science at Howard University.

• October 1, 1945 Donny Edward Hathaway, R&B singer, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Hathaway began singing in a church choir at the age of three billed as “Donny Pitts, The Nation’s Youngest Gospel Singer”. He also began studying the piano as a child and in 1964 earned a fine arts scholarship to Howard University. Hathaway left Howard in 1967 and began working as a songwriter, session musician, and producer. He recorded his first single in 1969 and released his first album, “Everything is Everything”, in 1970. In 1972, Hathaway recorded an album of duets with former Howard University classmate Roberta Flack which included the track “Where is the Love” which peaked at number five on the Billboard Pop Charts and won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Hathaway and Flack were again successful with the 1978 duet “The Closer I Get To You”. Other recordings by Hathaway include “The Ghetto – Pt. 1” (1970), “Giving Up” (1972), and “Someday We’ll All Be Free” (1973). Despite his success, Hathaway was diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and on January 13, 1979 his body was found on the sidewalk in front of the Essex House in New York City, apparently having committed suicide. In 2008, a collection of poems on Hathaway, “Winners Have Yet to be Announced: A Song for Donny Hathaway”, was published.

• October 1, 1945 Rodney Cline “Rod” Carew, hall of fame baseball player, was born in Gatun, Panama Canal Zone. At 14, Carew’s family immigrated to the United States. After graduating from high school, he signed a contract with the Minnesota Twins. In 1967, Carew was elevated to the major leagues and that year was chosen American League Rookie of the Year. Over his 19 season professional career, Carew was an 18-time All-Star and the 1977 American League Most Valuable Player. Also in 1977, he was awarded the Roberto Clemente Award which is given annually to the player that “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team”. After retiring in 1985, Carew has worked as a hitting coach for the Los Angeles Angels and the Milwaukee Brewers. He also served in the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball as a special advisor for international player development. Carew’s jersey number was retired by the Angels in 1986 and by the Minnesota Twins in 1987. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991 and in 2004 Panama City’s National Stadium was renamed Rod Carew Stadium.

• October 1, 1951 The 24th Infantry Regiment (the “Deuce Four”), the last all-black military unit, was deactivated in Korea. The 24th Infantry Regiment was organized November 1, 1869 and fought in most of the United States’ wars until it was deactivated. In 1898, they were deployed to Cuba as part of the U. S. Expeditionary Force in the Spanish-American War. In 1899, they were deployed to the Philippine Islands to help suppress a guerilla movement in the Philippine-American War. In 1916, they guarded the U.S.-Mexican border to keep the Mexican Revolution from spilling onto U.S. soil. During World War II, the 24th Infantry fought in the South Pacific Theater and from the end of the war through 1947 they occupied Okinawa, Japan. In June, 1950, the 24th deployed to Korea where they fought throughout the Korean peninsula. The regiment received the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation for their actions and two members of the regiment, Cornelius H. Charleton and William Thompson, posthumously received Congressional Medals of Honor for their actions in Korea.

• October 1, 1952 Joseph Black became the first black pitcher to win a World Series game when he pitched the Brooklyn Dodgers to a 4 to 2 victory over the New York Yankees. Black was born February 8, 1924 in Plainfield, New Jersey and won a baseball scholarship to Morgan State University where he graduated in 1950. Black was called up to the major leagues in 1952 and was chosen National League Rookie of the Year after winning 15 games and saving 15 others. That year was the highlight of his five year major league career and he retired with a record of 30 wins and 12 losses. After his playing career ended, Black worked in the baseball commissioner’s office advising players on career choices and became an executive with the Greyhound Bus Company. He also wrote a syndicated column “By The Way” for Ebony magazine as well as an autobiography, “Ain’t Nobody Better Than You”, which was published in 1983. Black died May 17, 2002 and his biography, “Meet the Real Joe Black”, was published in 2010. Also in 2010, the Washington Nationals began to annually present the Joe Black Award to a Washington area organization chosen for its work promoting baseball in African American communities. The award recognizes Black as the first African American player on the Washington Senators.

• October 1, 1959 Youssou N’Dour, singer, composer, and entrepreneur, was born in Dakar, Senegal. N’Dour began performing at the age of 12 and within a couple of years was performing with the most popular group in Dakar. In 1979, he formed his own ensemble which by 1981 had evolved into Super Etoile de Dakar, the most famous band in Africa. In 2005, N’Dour won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music for his album “Egypt”. Other albums by N’Dour include “The Lion” (1989), “Eyes Open” (1992), “St. Louis” (2000), and “Dakar-Kingston” (2010). N’Dour is one of the most celebrated African musicians in history with an international fan base of millions. The New York Times described his voice as an “arresting tenor, a supple weapon deployed with prophetic authority”. In Senegal, he is a powerful cultural icon actively involved in social issues. N’Dour wrote and performed the official anthem of the 1998 International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) World Cup and in 2000 he was appointed Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. He also owns a recording studio, a record label, one of the largest circulation newspapers in Senegal, and a radio station. In 2011, N’Dour received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from Yale University and in 2012 was appointed Minister of Tourism and Culture for Senegal.

• October 1, 1962 James H. Meredith became the first black student at the University of Mississippi. Meredith had applied for admission twice and was denied both times because of his race. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed suit and the United States Supreme Court eventually ruled that Meredith had to be admitted. His admission sparked riots on the campus which left two people dead. Meredith’s actions are considered a pivotal moment in the history of civil rights in the U. S. Despite harassment from other students, Meredith earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science in 1963. Meredith was born June 25, 1933 in Kosciusko, Mississippi. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force immediately after graduating from high school and served from 1951 to 1960. He then attended Jackson State College for two years before applying for admission to the University of Mississippi. In 1966, Meredith led “The March Against Fear” from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi. During the march, he was shot in an attempted assassination. Also that year, his memoir, “Three Years in Mississippi”, was published. Meredith earned his Juris Doctorate degree from Columbia University in 1968. A statue of Meredith is located on the campus of the University of Mississippi. “The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss” (2009) traces the history of the University of Mississippi prior to Meredith’s arrival, the legal and political standoff over his admission, and the fatal riots that ensued.

• October 1, 1971 Alonzo Graseano Moron, the first black president of Hampton University, died. Moron was born April 12, 1909 in the Virgin Islands. In 1923, he was sent to Hampton Institute where in 1927 he received a degree in upholstering. In 1932, Moron earned his Bachelor of Philosophy degree cum laude Phi Beta Kappa from Brown University and in 1933 earned his Master of Arts degree in sociology from the University of Pittsburgh. That same year, he was appointed commissioner of public works for the Virgin Islands. Moron returned to the United States in 1936 and earned his Bachelor of Laws degree from Harvard University Law School in 1947. In 1949, Moron was appointed president of Hampton Institute, the first black president of the historically black institution, a position he held until his resignation in 1959. During his tenure, he achieved financial security for the institution and proved that a school for African Americans could be successful with a black man in charge. After resigning, Moron returned to the Virgin Islands where he was named deputy regional administrator for an entire region which included the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

• October 1, 1975 The “Thrilla in Manila”, the third and final boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier for the Heavyweight Boxing Championship of the World, was fought in Manila, Philippines. Both men battled each other into near incapacity before Frazier’s trainer stopped the fight after the fourteenth round and Ali was declared the winner by a technical knockout. The bout is considered one of the greatest fights of the 20th century. The “Ali Mall”, the first multi-level commercial shopping mall in the Philippines was named after Ali as a tribute to his victory.

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Founded in 1965 and located in the heart of Midtown Detroit’s Cultural Center, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is the world's largest institution dedicated to the African American experience. The Museum provides learning opportunities, exhibitions, programs and events based on collections and research that explore the diverse history and culture of African Americans and their African origins.

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