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Today in Black History, 10/25/2012

• October 25, 1893 Joseph Charles Price, founder and first president of Livingston College, died. Price was born February 10, 1854 in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. He graduated as class valedictorian from Lincoln University in 1879 and was appointed to the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s delegation to the World Ecumenical Conference in London, England. In London, Price amazed audiences with his powerful speaking and was called “The World’s Orator” by the British press. Over the next year, Price raised $10,000 and returned to North Carolina in 1882 to open Livingston College. Price served as president of the college until his death. In 1890, he was elected president of the National Protective Association and that same year was voted one of the “Ten Greatest Negroes Who Ever Lived.” His biography, “Joseph Charles Price, Educator and Race Leader,” was published in 1943. In 1967, a North Carolina Highway Historical Marker was dedicated in his honor in Elizabeth City.

• October 25, 1924 Earl Cryil Palmer, hall of fame drummer, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Palmer started his entertainment career at the age of five as a tap dancer on the black vaudeville circuit. He toured the country extensively with the Darktown Scandals Review. Palmer served in Europe for the United States Army during World War II. After the war, he studied piano and percussions and started drumming with the Dave Bartholomew Band. He also recorded on most of the hits by Fats Domino and Little Richard. Palmer moved to Los Angeles, California in 1957 where he played drums on the soundtracks of many movies and television shows. He also played on recordings by Frank Sinatra, Rick Nelson, Ray Charles, Randy Newman, Bonnie Raitt, and Elvis Costello. In 2000, Palmer became one of the first session players to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His biography, “Backbeat: the Earl Palmer Story,” was published in 1999. Palmer died September 19, 2008.

• October 25, 1925 Emmett W. Chappelle, hall of fame scientist and researcher, was born in Phoenix, Arizona. Chappelle earned his Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry from the University of California in 1950 and his Master of Science degree from the University of Washington in 1954. From 1950 to 1953, he served as a biochemistry instructor at Meharry Medical College and from 1955 to 1959 was a research associate at Stanford University. In 1958, Chappelle joined the Research Institute for Advanced Studies where he discovered that one celled plants could convert carbon dioxide to oxygen. This discovery helped to create a safe food supply for astronauts. In 1966, he joined the National Aeronautics and Space Administration where he worked until his retirement in 2001. During that time he discovered a method for instantly detecting bacteria in water which led to improved diagnosis of urinary tract infections and he proved that the number of bacteria in semen could be measured by the amount of light given off by that bacteria. Chappelle has been honored as one of the 100 most distinguished African American scientist of the 20th century and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007 for his discovery of the Lyophilized Reaction Mixtures (patent number 3,423,290 on January 21, 1969 which was attributed to NASA). He discovered that a specific combination of chemicals caused all living organisms to emit light. He has received 13 additional patents. Throughout his career, Chappelle has mentored talented high school and college students in his laboratories.

• October 25, 1926 James Edward “Jimmy” Heath, jazz saxophonist, composer, and arranger, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1948, Heath performed at the First International Jazz Festival in Paris. He has performed with nearly all the jazz greats of the last 50 years, including Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Milt Jackson, and Wynton Marsailes. Hearth has appeared on more than 100 recordings, including 12 as leader. He has also written more than 125 compositions. He premiered his first symphonic work, “Three Ears,” in 1988. In the 1980s, Heath joined the faculty of the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College where he taught for 20 years. In 2003, he was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts and in 2004 was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by City University of New York.

• October 25, 1940 Benjamin Oliver Davis, Sr. became the first African American general in the United States Army when he was promoted to brigadier general. Davis was born July 1, 1877 in Washington, D.C. He entered military service in 1898 and over his fifty year career had many assignments, including several stints as professor of military science and tactics at Wilberforce University and Tuskegee University. Davis retired from the military in 1948 in a public ceremony presided over by President Harry S. Truman. His U.S. military decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal and the Bronze Star. His foreign awards and honors include the Croix de Guerre with Palm from France and the Grade of Commander of the Order of the Star of Africa from Liberia. Davis died November 26, 1970 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His biography, “America’s First Black General: Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. 1880-1970,” was published in 1989. Davis’ name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• October 25, 1973 Abebe Bikila, two-time Olympic marathon champion, died. Bikila was born August 7, 1932 in the village of Jato, Ethiopia. At the 1960 Rome Olympic Games, Bikila won the marathon in world record time, becoming the first black African to win an Olympic Gold Medal. At the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, he again won the marathon in world record time, becoming the first athlete in history to win the Olympic marathon twice. In 1969, Bikila was involved in a car accident which left him a paraplegic. After his death, Emperor Haile Selassie I proclaimed a national day of mourning. A stadium in Addis, Ababa is named in his honor. Since 1978, the New York Road Runners have annually presented the Abebe Bikila Award to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the sport of distance running.

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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.