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Today in Black History, 10/24/2012

• October 24, 1896 Marjorie Stewart Joyner, inventor of the permanent wave machine, was born in Monterey, Virginia. In 1916, Joyner became the first African American to graduate from the A.B. Molar Beauty School in Chicago. After graduating, she went to work for Madam C.J. Walker, overseeing 200 of her beauty schools as the national advisor. On November 27, 1928, she received patent number 1,693,515 for her invention of the permanent wave machine which could be used to curl or straighten hair by wrapping rods above the person’s head and then cooking them to set the hair. This method allowed hair styles to last several days. Because she was working for Walker, her invention was credited to Madam Walker’s company and she received almost no money for it. In 1945, Joyner co-founded the United Beauty School Owners and Teachers Association and in 1973, at the age of 77, she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from Bethune-Cookman College. Joyner died December 7, 1994.

• October 24, 1904 George Jordan, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Jordan was born enslaved in 1847 in Williamson County, Tennessee. By 1880, he was serving as a sergeant in the 9th Cavalry Regiment in New Mexico during the Indian Wars. His citation reads, “While commanding a detachment of 25 men at Fort Tularosa, New Mexico, repulsed a force of more than 100 Indians. At Carrizo Canyon, New Mexico, while commanding the right of a detachment of 19 men, on 12 August 1881, he stubbornly held his ground in an extremely exposed position and gallantly forced back a much superior number of the enemy, preventing them from surrounding the command.” For these actions, Jordan was awarded the medal, America’s highest military decoration, on May 7, 1890. Jordan reached the rank of first sergeant before retiring from the army. Not much is known of Jordan’s life before or after the army.

• October 24, 1911 Sonny Terry, hall of fame blues musician, was born Saunders Terrell in Greensboro, North Carolina. Terry’s father taught him to play the blues harp as a youth. After Terry lost his sight at the age of 16, he was forced to play music to earn a living. In 1938, he played at Carnegie Hall in the first “From Spirituals to Swing” concert and later that year recorded for the Library of Congress. Some of his most famous works include “Old Jabo” and “Lost John.” Terry died March 11, 1986 and was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1987.

• October 24, 1948 Kweisi Mfume, former head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was born Frizzell Gerald Gray in Baltimore, Maryland. At the age of 16, Mfume dropped out of high school and worked a number of jobs. At the age of 23, he returned to his studies and in 1976 earned his Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude from Morgan State University. During that time, he also changed his name which translates to “Conquering Son of Kings.” In 1984, Mfume earned his Master of Arts degree in international studies from John Hopkins University. Mfume was elected to the Baltimore City Council in 1978 where he served until 1986 when he was elected to the United States House of Representatives. Mfume served five terms in Congress, including one term as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, before he resigned in 1996 to accept the presidency of the NAACP. Before stepping down in 2004, Mfume reformed the organization’s finances and paid down a considerable amount of debt. In 2006, Mfume lost in the Democratic primary race for one of Maryland’s U.S. Senate seats. Mfume has received honorary doctorate degrees from several universities, including the University of Maryland, Brandeis University, and Morehouse College. His biography, “No Free Ride: From the Mean Streets to the Mainstream,” was published in 1996.

• October 24, 1972 Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson, the first African American major league baseball player of the modern era and hall of famer, died. Robinson was born January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia. After graduating from Pasadena Junior College in 1939, Robinson transferred to the University of California at Los Angeles where he became the school’s first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports, baseball, basketball, football, and track. From 1942 to 1945, he served as a first lieutenant in the United States Army. Robinson broke the major league color line when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. Over his ten season professional career, he won the Rookie of the Year Award, the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949, and was selected to six consecutive All-Star Games. Robinson retired in 1956 and that same year was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. In the 1960s, he helped establish the Freedom National Bank, an African American owned and operated financial institution in New York City. Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 23, 1962, the first African American to be inducted. After his death, Major League Baseball renamed the Rookie of the Year Award the Jackie Robinson Award in 1987 and in 1997 permanently retired his uniform number 42. In recognition of his achievements on and off the baseball field, Robinson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 and the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush in 2005. Since 2004, Major League Baseball has recognized April 15 as Jackie Robinson Day at all of their ballparks. Robinson published his autobiography, “I Never Had It Made,” in 1972. There are numerous other books about Robinson, including “Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy” (1983) and “Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America” (2004). The Jackie Robinson Foundation was founded in 1973 and has provided college scholarships worth more than $22 million to more than 1,400 students. Robinson’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• October 24, 2005 Rosa Louise McCauley Parks, the “mother of the modern Civil Rights Movement,” died. Parks was born February 4, 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama. On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, she refused to obey a bus driver’s order to give up her seat to a white passenger and was arrested. Her arrest sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and made her an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. Eventually, she moved to Detroit, Michigan and from 1965 to 1988 worked for United States Representative John Conyers. Parks received many honors, including the 1979 Spingarn Medal from the NAACP, 1983 induction into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, presented by President William Clinton in 1996, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999. In 1976, the City of Detroit renamed 12th Street, Rosa Parks Boulevard. After her death, Parks was honored as the first woman and second African American to lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. She also lay in state in the Rotunda of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan for 48 hours. Her name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the museum. Her biography, “Rosa Parks: A Biography,” was published in 2011.

• October 24, 2006 Enolia Pettigen McMillan, the first female national president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, died. McMillan was born October 20, 1904 in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. She 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.

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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.