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Today in Black History, 10/20/2012

• October 20, 1849 William Washington Browne, educator, minister, and businessman, was born enslaved in Habersham County, Georgia. At 15, Browne ran away and joined the Union Army during the Civil War. After the war, he attended school in Wisconsin and then returned to the South in 1869 to teach in Georgia and Alabama. After becoming a Methodist minister in 1876, he urged the formation of groups to pool money and buy land. In 1889, he organized the True Reformers Savings Bank in Richmond, Virginia, the first black bank in the United States to receive a charter. At its peak in 1907, it took in more than $1 million in deposits. Browne was one of only eight men, including Booker T. Washington, selected to represent African Americans at the Cotton States and International Exposition in 1895. Browne died December 21, 1897 and his funeral was one of the largest ever seen in Richmond’s black community.

• October 20, 1893 Jomo Kenyatta, first Prime Minister and President of the Republic of Kenya, was born in the village of Ngende, Gatundu, in British East Africa (now Kenya). In 1929, Kenyatta moved to Europe for education and work. In 1946, he returned to Kenya and in 1947 was elected president of the Kenya African Union. In 1951, the Mau Mau rebellion began and the British declared a state of emergency. Kenyatta was convicted and sentenced to seven years of hard labor for managing and being a member of the Mau Mau Society. He was released in 1961 and in 1963 elected Prime Minister of the Kenyan government. On June 1, 1964, Kenya became an independent republic with Kenyatta as president. He remained president until his death on August 22, 1978. Kenyatta authored a number of books, including “Facing Mount Kenya” (1938), “Kenya: The Land of Conflict” (1971), and his autobiography, “Suffering without Bitterness” (1968). A number of streets, schools, hospitals, and other institutions in Kenya bear his name, including Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Kenya observes a public holiday every October 20 in his honor.

• October 20, 1898 North Carolina Mutual and Provident Insurance Company, the first African American owned insurance company, was founded in Durham, North Carolina. The company formulated the concept of the “double duty dollar” which was based on the premise that income from insurance sales should be channeled back into the community. Throughout its history, the company has had programs to build strong families and communities through jobs, investments, loans, and contributions and support of social programs. Today, North Carolina Mutual Life is the oldest and largest African American life insurance company in the nation, operating in 24 states and the District of Columbia with more than $150 million in assets.

• October 20, 1904 Enolia Pettigen McMillan, the first female national president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was born in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. McMillan earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in education from Howard University in 1926 and began teaching in Maryland. In 1933, she earned her Master of Arts degree from Columbia University. During her 40 year teaching career, she served as president of the Maryland State Colored Teachers’ Association and was credited with bringing better quality books to black students and better pay for black teachers. After retiring from teaching, she served as president of the Baltimore, Maryland NAACP in the 1970s and 1980s and in 1984 became president of the national organization where she served until 1990. She was instrumental in moving the organization’s headquarters from New York City to Baltimore. McMillan died October 24, 2006.

• October 20, 1914 Fayard Antonio Nicholas, half of the hall of fame Nicholas Brothers dance team, was born in Mobile, Alabama, but grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Neither he nor his younger brother had any formal dance training, but by 1932 they were the featured act at the Cotton Club in New York City. In 1934, they made their Hollywood film debut in “Kid Millions” and they made their Broadway debut in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936. Over the next four decades, they alternated between movies, Broadway, television, nightclubs, and tours of Latin America, Africa, and Europe. One of their signature moves was to dance down a flight of stairs, leapfrogging over each other and landing in a split on each step. They performed the move in the movie “Stormy Weather” (1943) and Fred Astaire declared that it was the greatest movie musical sequence he had ever seen. Gregory Hines declared that if their biography was ever filmed, their dance moves would have to be computer generated because no one could duplicate them. Mikhail Baryshnikov called them the most amazing dancers he had ever seen. The brothers also taught tap dance at Harvard University. Among their students were Debbie Allen, Janet Jackson, and Michael Jackson. The brothers received numerous awards, including honorary doctorates from Harvard University, Kennedy Center Honors in 1991, and induction into the National Museum of Dance’s Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame in 2001. Fayard Nicholas died January 24, 2006. The brother’s home movies were included in the National Film Registry in 2011 as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films.” “Brotherhood in Rhythm: The Jazz Tap Dancing of the Nicholas Brothers” was published in 2000.

• October 20, 1932 Roosevelt “Rosey” Brown, Jr., hall of fame football player, was born in Charlottesville, Virginia. Brown played college football for Morgan State University where he was a Black College All-American in 1951 and 1952. He was selected by the New York Giants in the 1953 NFL Draft. Over his 13 season professional career, Brown was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and helped the Giants win the National Football League Championship in 1956. Brown retired after the 1965 season and became the assistant offensive line coach for the Giants in 1966 and was promoted to offensive line coach in 1969. In 1975, Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Brown died June 9, 2004. A historical marker honoring Brown was unveiled in 2009 at the intersection of Roosevelt Brown Boulevard and Main Street in Charlottesville.

• October 20, 1934 Eddie Harris, jazz musician, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Harris studied music at DuSable High School and Roosevelt University before he was drafted into the United States Army where he played in the 7th Army Band. His first Album, “Exodus to Jazz” (1961), included his jazz arrangement of the theme from the movie “Exodus” which became the first jazz record ever to be certified gold. In 1967, his album “The Electrifying Eddie Harris” reached number 2 on the R&B charts and in 1969 he performed with Les McCann’s group on the recording “Swiss Movement” which became one of the best selling jazz albums ever. Harris was responsible for most of the music for “The Bill Cosby Show” television series. Harris died November 5, 1996.

• October 20, 1937 Juan Antonio Marichal, hall of fame baseball player, was born in Laguna Verde, Dominican Republic. Marichal entered the major leagues in 1960 with the San Francisco Giants and during the decade of the 1960s won more games than any other major league pitcher. Over his 15 year professional career, he was a nine-time All-Star and retired with a strikeout to walk ratio of 3.25 to 1 which ranks among the top 20 pitchers of all time. His career record was 243 wins and 142 losses. The Giants retired Marichal’s uniform number 27 in 1975, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983, and in 2005 he was honored with a statue outside the Giant’s AT&T Park. Marichal currently serves as Minister of Sports for the Dominican Republic.

• October 20, 1951 The Johnny Bright Incident occurred when African American football player Johnny Bright was violently assaulted by white football player Wilbanks Smith during a college football game between Drake University and Oklahoma State University. In 1951, Bright was a pre-season Heisman Trophy candidate who had led the nation in total offense in 1949 and 1950. The game marked the first time that an African American athlete with a national profile had played against Oklahoma State. During the first seven minutes of the game, Bright was knocked unconscious three times by blows from Smith. The final blow broke Bright’s jaw and he was eventually forced to leave the game. A six sequence photograph of the incident was captured by the Des Moines Register newspaper and it showed that the final blow was delivered well after Bright had handed the football off. That photographic sequence won the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for Photography and later made the cover of Life Magazine. After the game, Oklahoma State and the conference officials refused to take any disciplinary action against Smith. Bright went on to earn his Bachelor of Science degree in education from Drake in 1952 and enjoy a 13-season professional career in the Canadian Football League, retiring in 1964 as the CFL’s all-time leading rusher. After football, Bright worked as a teacher, coach, and school administrator until his death on December 14, 1983. Bright was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1970 and posthumously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1984. In 2005, Oklahoma State University formally apologized to Drake University for the incident. Johnny Bright School, named in his honor, opened in Edmonton, Canada in 2010.

• October 20, 1954 Lee Roy Selmon, hall of fame football player, was born in Eufaula, Oklahoma. Selmon played college football at the University of Oklahoma where he was an All-American in 1974 and 1975. In 1975, he won the Lombardi Award and the Outland Trophy as the best college football lineman in the country. Selmon was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1976 NFL Draft. Over his nine season professional career, Selmon was a six-time Pro Bowl selection and in 1979 was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Selmon retired after the 1984 season and in 1986 the Buccaneers retired his uniform number 63. From 1993 to 2001, Selmon served as assistant athletic director at the University of South Florida before being promoted to athletic director at the college. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995. In 1996, he was named Walter Camp Alumnus of the Year, an award given to an individual “who has distinguished himself in the pursuit of excellence as an athlete, in his personal career and in doing good works for others.” In 1999, The Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway in Hillsborough County, Florida was named in his honor. Selmon died September 4, 2011.

• October 20, 1955 Aaron Pryor, hall of fame boxer, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. As an amateur boxer, Pryor had a record of 204 wins and 16 losses and won the 1972 National Amateur Athletic Union championship at 132 pounds. Pryor turned professional in 1976 and in 1980 won the Junior Welterweight Championship. In 1982, Pryor defeated Alexis Arguello in a match that was named Fight of the Year and Fight of the Decade by Ring Magazine. Pryor retired from boxing in 1990 due to eye problems with a record of 39 wins and 1 loss. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996. He currently works as a boxing trainer and lectures against the use of drugs.

• October 20, 1964 Kamala Devi Harris, the first woman and first African American Attorney General of California, was born in Oakland, California. Harris earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Howard University in 1986 and her Juris Doctorate degree from the University of California Hasting College of Law in 1989. From 1990 to 1998, she served as deputy district attorney in Alameda County, California. In 2003, she was elected district attorney of San Francisco and was reelected in 2007. Harris was elected Attorney General of California in 2010. In 2009, Harris published “Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor’s Plan to Make Us Safer.”

• October 20, 1996 The Black Revolutionary War Patriots Commemorative Silver Dollar was authorized by Public Law 104-329 to honor the black Revolutionary War patriots and the 275th anniversary of the birth of the first black Revolutionary War patriot, Crispus Attucks. Attucks was the first person killed by the British in the Boston Massacre of 1770. More than 5,000 African Americans fought in the Revolutionary War. The coin was available for purchase from the United States Mint from February 13, 1998 through December 31, 1998.

• October 20, 2005 Shirley Horn, jazz singer and pianist, died. Horn was born May 1, 1934 in Washington D.C. She began playing the piano at an early age and had thoughts of becoming a classical artist. She first achieved fame in 1960 and over her career was nominated for nine Grammy Awards, winning in 1999 for Best Jazz Vocal Album for “I Remember Miles.” Horn was recognized by the United States Congress for “her many achievements and contributions to the world of jazz and American culture” and performed at the White House for several U.S. presidents. In 2002, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree by Berklee College of Music. In 2005, Horn was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the United States bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts.

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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.