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Today in Black History, 10/19/2012

• October 19, 1859 Byrd Prillerman, co-founder of West Virginia State College, was born enslaved in Shady Grove, Virginia. After being freed, Prillerman began school at the age of 12 and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1889 from Knoxville College. He also earned his Master of Arts degree at Westminster in 1894 and a Doctor of Letters degree from Selma University in 1919. In 1891, along with Rev. C.H. Payne, Prillerman secured legislative action to create the West Virginia Colored Institute which opened its doors the following year with Prillerman as the head of the Department of English. He taught in that capacity until 1909 when he was elected president of the institution, a position he held until his retirement in 1919. Prillerman was also one of the organizers, and for many years president, of the West Virginia Teachers’ Association. One of his favorite sayings was “a well painted two-story house owned by a Negro is sharper than a two-edged sword.” Prillerman died April 25, 1929. Byrd Prillerman High School in Amigo, West Virginia is named in his honor.

• October 19, 1934 Richard Arrington, Jr., the first black Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, was born in Livingston, Alabama. Arrington earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in science from Miles College in 1955 and his Master of Science degree from the University of Detroit in 1957. He returned to Miles College and served as professor of biology from 1957 to 1963 and academic dean from 1967 to 1970. In 1966, Arrington earned his Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma. In 1970, he became executive director of the Alabama Center for Higher Education, a position he held until 1979. In 1971, Arrington was elected to the first of two terms on the Birmingham City Council and in 1979 he was elected mayor. Arrington served five terms as mayor and during that time significantly increased the participation of blacks at all levels of the government. Birmingham also flourished under his leadership, becoming a regional center for banking and health care. Arrington resigned prior to the end of his fifth term. The Richard Arrington, Jr. Middle School in Birmingham is named in his honor. His biography, “Back to Birmingham: Richard Arrington, Jr., and His Times,” was published in 1989. Arrington published his memoir, “There’s Hope for the World: The Memoir of Birmingham, Alabama’s First African-American Mayor,” in 2008.

• October 19, 1936 Johnnetta Betsch Cole, the first African American female president of Spelman College, was born in Jacksonville, Florida. Cole earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology in 1957 from Oberlin College and her Master of Arts degree in 1959 and Ph.D. in 1967 in anthropology from Northwestern University. She directed the Black Studies Program at Washington State University from 1969 to 1970 and taught in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts from 1970 to 1983. Cole served as president of Spelman from 1987 to 1997 and as president of Bennett College for Women from 2002 to 2007. From 2004 to 2006, Cole was chair of the Board of Trustees of United Way of America. She has served on the board of directors of Home Depot, Merck & Co., and Coca-Cola Enterprises. She is currently chairperson of The Johnnetta B. Cole Global Diversity & Inclusion Institute at Bennett College and director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art.

• October 19, 1958 Michael Stephen Steele, the first African American chairman of the Republican National Convention, was born at Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George’s County, Maryland and adopted as an infant. Steele earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in international relations from John Hopkins University in 1981. After graduating, Steele spent three years preparing for the priesthood at the Augustinian Friars Seminary at Villanova University. However, he left prior to ordination. In 1991, he earned his Juris Doctorate degree from the Georgetown University Law Center. After joining the Republican Party, Steele became chairman of the Prince George’s County Republican Central Committee and in 1995 was selected Maryland Republican Man of the Year. In 2000, he was elected chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, the first African American to be elected chairman of any state Republican Party. In 2002, Steele was elected Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, a position he held until 2007. In 2009, Steele was elected chairman of the Republican National Committee and in 2010 he published his book, “Right Now: A 12-Step Program for Defeating the Obama Agenda.”

• October 19, 1960 Jennifer-Yvette Holliday, singer and actress, was born in Riverside, Texas. At the age of 19, Holliday earned a role in the Broadway production of “Your Arm’s Too Short to Box with God.” In 1981, she originated the role of Effie in the Broadway production of “Dreamgirls” and remained with the show for nearly four years. That role earned her the 1982 Tony Award for Best Lead Actress in a Musical and her recording of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from the show won the 1983 Grammy Award for Best Female Performance, Rhythm & Blues. Holliday went on to record such hits as “I Am Love” (1983), “No Frills Love” (1985), “I’m On Your Side” (1991), and “A Woman’s Got the Power” (2000). In 2000, Holliday received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from Berklee College of Music. Her most recent album, “Goodness & Mercy,” was released in 2011.

• October 19, 1979 Marjorie Lee Browne, educator and one of the first African American women to earn a doctorate in mathematics, died. Browne was born September 9, 1914 in Memphis, Tennessee. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree cum laude in mathematics from Howard University in 1935 and her Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan in 1939. Browne earned her Ph.D. in mathematics from Michigan in 1949. She then joined the faculty of North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University) where she taught and researched for 30 years. In 1960, she wrote a grant that resulted in the IBM Corporation providing NCCU with a computer, one of the first computers in academic computing. Browne also established summer institutes to provide continuing education in mathematics for high school teachers and in 1974 was the first recipient of the W.W. Rankin Memorial Award for Excellence in Mathematics Education. In 2001, the University of Michigan established the Marjorie Lee Browne Colloquium. NCCU annually offers the Marjorie Lee Brown Scholarship to students majoring in mathematics.

• October 19, 1983 Maurice Rupert Bishop, former Prime Minister of Grenada, was executed. Bishop was born May 29, 1944 on the island of Aruba, but raised in Grenada. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Presentation College and was educated at the London School of Economics. After returning to Grenada in 1973, he was elected head of the Marxist New Jewel Movement political party. Bishop was elected to Parliament and for several years held the position of leader of the opposition in the Grenadian House of Representatives. In 1979, the ruling party was deposed and Bishop was declared Prime Minister of Grenada. In 1983, Bishop was deposed and placed under house arrest. On October 19 Bishop and seven others, including cabinet ministers and his mistress, were executed. In May, 2009, the Grenada airport was renamed Maurice Bishop International Airport in his honor. Bishop’s speeches have been published in “Forward Ever!: Three Years of the Grenadian Revolution” (1982) and “In Nobody’s Backyard: Maurice Bishop’s Speeches: 1979-1983: A Memorial Volume” (1984).

• October 19, 1986 Samora Moises Machel, the first President of the Republic of Mozambique, died in an airplane crash. Machel was born September 29, 1933 in Gaza Province, Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique). In 1962, Machel joined the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) which was dedicated to creating an independent Mozambique. He received military training in other parts of Africa and returned in 1964 to lead FRELIMO’s first armed attack against the Portuguese. By 1969, Machel had become commander-in-chief of the FRELIMO army. When Mozambique gained its independence June 25, 1975, Machel became its first president and served until his death. A memorial at the site of the crash was inaugurated in 1999. Machel’s biography, “Samora Machel: An African Revolutionary,” was published in 1985.

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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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