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Today in Black History, 10/23/2012

• October 23, 1810 William Alexander Leidesdorff, one of the earliest black settlers in California and often called the first black millionaire, was born in St. Croix, Virgin Islands. Leidesdorff left St. Croix when he was 15 for schooling in Denmark and after that went to New Orleans, Louisiana where he worked as a ship captain from 1834 to 1840. In 1841, he moved to California where he launched the first steamboat to operate on San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento River. He also built the first hotel and the first shipping warehouse. In 1844, Leidesdorff became a naturalized Mexican citizen and received a land grant of 35,521 acres. He went on to establish extensive commercial relations throughout Hawaii, Alaska, and Mexican California. When the United States took over California, Leidesdorff was one of three members on the first San Francisco school board and was later elected city treasurer. He also donated the land for the first public school. In 1845, President James Polk hired him as the United States Vice Consul to Mexico. When Leidesdorff died on May 18, 1848, he was one of the wealthiest men in California and on the day of his burial, flags were flown at half-mast, business was suspended, and the schools were closed. When his estate was auctioned in 1856, it was valued at more than $1,445,000. Leidesdorff streets in San Francisco and Folsom, California are named in his honor. His biography, “William Alexander Leidesdorff: First Black Millionaire, American Consul and California Pioneer,” was published in 2005.

• October 23, 1911 The National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes was formed as the result of the merger of The Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes, The Committee for the Improvement of Industrial Conditions Among Negroes in New York, and The National League for the Protection of Colored Women. In 1920, the organization was renamed The National Urban League. Today, there are over 100 local affiliates located in 35 states and the District of Columbia with the mission “to enable African Americans to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights.”

• October 23, 1940 Pelé, hall of fame soccer player, was born Edison Arantes de Nascimento in Tres Coracoes, Brazil. Pelé began playing for the Brazilian national soccer team at 16 and won his first World Cup, the international championship of soccer, at 17. Pelé’s technique and athleticism has been universally praised and during his playing years he was renowned for his excellent dribbling and passing, powerful shot, and prolific goal scoring. He is the all-time leading scorer of the Brazil national team and the only player to be part of three World Cup winning teams. Since his retirement in 1977, Pelé has been a worldwide ambassador for soccer and a vocal supporter of policies to improve the social conditions of the poor. The International Olympic Committee has proclaimed Pelé “Athlete of the Century” and in 1999 Time Magazine named him one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century. In 1993, Pelé was inducted into the American National Soccer Hall of Fame and in 2000 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Laureus Academy. In 2012, Pelé was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Edinburgh for “significant contribution to humanitarian and environmental causes, as well as his sporting achievements.” In Brazil, Pelé is considered a national hero. He published his autobiography, “My Life and the Beautiful Game: The Autobiography of Pelé,” in 1977.

• October 23, 1957 Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda, was born in Ruhango, Rwanda. Kagame began his military career in 1979 when he joined the National Resistance Army (NRA) and spent years fighting as a guerrilla against the government of Uganda. In 1985, Kagame co-founded the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) political party. In 1986, he became the head of military intelligence for the NRA. During 1990, Kagame received military training from the United States Army at Fort Leavenworth and that same year became military commander of the RFP. Kagame became President of Rwanda in 2000 and in 2003 won the first national election since 1994. Under his leadership, Rwanda has been called Africa’s biggest success story. As a result, Kagame has received many honors, including the 2003 Global Leadership Award in recognition of his “commitment and tireless work to address crises, foster understanding, unity, and peace to benefit all people” and the 2009 Clinton Global Citizen Award in recognition of his “leadership in public service that has improved the lives of the people of Rwanda.” Kagame’s biography, “Paul Kagame and Rwanda: Power, Genocide and the Rwandan Patriotic Front,” was published in 2004.

• October 23, 1958 Michael Eric Dyson, academic, author, and minister, was born in Detroit, Michigan. Dyson earned his Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude from Carson-Newman College in 1982 and his Master of Arts degree and Ph.D from Princeton University in 1991 and 1993, respectively. Dyson is a longtime professor, lecturer and author who address’ issues of race and culture. He has authored a number of books, including “Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X” (1995), “I May Not Get There with You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr.” (2000), and “Can You Hear Me Now? The Inspiration, Wisdom, and Insight of Michael Eric Dyson” (2009). Since 2007, Dyson has been University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University, teaching courses in theology, English and African American studies. Since June, 2011, Dyson has served as a political analyst for MSNBC television.

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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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