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Today in Black History, 10/26/2012

• October 26, 1899 William Julius “Judy” Johnson, hall of fame Negro League baseball player, was born in Snow Hill, Maryland. Johnson began his baseball career in 1918 and reached the highest level of the Negro leagues in 1921. In 1930, Johnson was a player-coach for the Homestead Grays and in that capacity discovered fellow hall of famer Josh Gibson. From 1935 until his retirement as a player in 1938, Johnson was the captain of the Pittsburgh Crawfords, one of the greatest Negro league teams of all time. Johnson was also an accomplished talent scout, responsible for signing Bill Bruton and Dick Allen who later starred in the major leagues. He retired in 1973 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975. Johnson died June 15, 1989.

• October 26, 1911 Mahalia Jackson, the Queen of Gospel Music, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1927, Jackson moved to Chicago, Illinois where she met Thomas A. Dorsey in the mid-1930s and they began a 14 year touring association. In 1948, Jackson recorded “Move On Up A Little Higher” which sold eight million copies and in 1998 was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as a recording of “qualitative or historical significance.” The success of that recording rocketed Jackson to fame in the United States and Europe. Jackson went on to record many other successful songs, including “Walk With Me” (1949), “The Lord’s Prayer” (1950), and “Nobody Knows” (1954). In 1963, Jackson sang at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Jackson published her autobiography, “Moving On Up,” in 1966 and died on January 27, 1972. Jackson is widely regarded as the greatest gospel singer of all time. She won the Grammy Award for Best Gospel or Other Religious Recording in 1961 for “Everytime I Feel the Spirit” and in 1962 for “Great Songs of Love and Faith.” Jackson was posthumously awarded the Grammy Award for Best Soul Gospel Performance in 1977 for “How I Got Over.” Jackson was posthumously awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1972, inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 1978, and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. In 1998, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor. A number of biographies of Jackson have been written, including “Mahalia Jackson: Queen of Gospel Song” (1974) and “Got to Tell It: Mahalia Jackson, Queen of Gospel” (1992).

• October 26, 1919 Edward William Brooke, III, the first African American to be elected to the United States Senate by popular vote, was born in Washington, D.C. Brooke earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Howard University in 1941 and his Bachelor of Laws and Master of Laws degrees from Boston University Law School in 1948 and 1949, respectively. In 1962, Brooke was elected Attorney General of Massachusetts where he served two terms before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1966. One of his major accomplishments in his two terms in the Senate was co-authoring the 1968 Fair Housing Act which was signed into law on April 11, 1968. In 1978, Brooke was defeated in his run for a third term. In 1967, Brooke was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. On June 20, 2000, the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts was dedicated in his honor and Edward W. Brooke Charter School in Boston opened in 2002. In 2004, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President George W. Bush and in 2009 he received the Congressional Gold Medal. Brooke published “The Challenge of Change: Crisis in Our Two-party System” in 1966 and his autobiography, “Bridging the Divide: My Life,” in 2006.

• October 26, 1947 Benedict Wallet Vilakazi, poet, novelist, and educator, died. Vilakazi was born Bambatha kaMshini Vilakazi on January 6, 1906 near KwaDukuza, Natal (now South Africa). At the age of ten, he was baptized and given the name Benedict Wallet. He earned his teaching certificate in 1923 and taught at several schools. He published his first novel, “Nje nempela,” in 1933. It was one of the first works of Zulu fiction to treat modern subject matter. Vilakazi earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Africa in 1934 and began teaching at the University of Witwatersrand in 1936. He was the first black South African to teach white South Africans at the university level. In 1946, he earned his Ph.D. in literature from Witwatersrand for a dissertation on Zulu poetry, making him the first black South African to earn a doctorial degree.

• October 26, 1952 Hattie McDaniel, the first black performer to win an Academy Award, died. McDaniel was born June 10, 1895 in Wichita, Kansas. She was a professional singer/songwriter, comedienne, stage and movie actress, and radio performer. Over the course of her career, she appeared in more than 300 films, often portraying a maid. In response to criticism from the NAACP, she said “I’d rather play a maid and make $700 a week than be one for $7.” In 1940, McDaniel won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mammy in “Gone with the Wind.” During World War II, she served as chairperson of the Negro Division of the Hollywood Victory Committee, providing entertainment for soldiers at military bases. Before she died, McDaniel expressed that she wanted to be buried in the Hollywood Cemetery with other movie stars, but the owners of the cemetery would not allow it because of her race. McDaniel has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for her contributions to radio and one for motion pictures. In 2006, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor. Her biography, “Hattie: The Life of Hattie McDaniel,” was published in 1990.

• October 26, 1956 Regina Marcia Benjamin, Surgeon General of the United States, was born in Mobile, Alabama. Benjamin earned her Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Xavier University in 1979, her Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Alabama in 1984, and her Master of Business Administration degree from the Freeman School of Business at Tulane University in 1991. In 1990, she founded the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic, a nonprofit primary care medical clinic. In 1995, she was elected to the board of trustees of the American Medical Association, making her both the first physician under age 40 and the first African American woman to be elected. Benjamin served as president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama in 2002 and from 2008 to 2009 served as the chair of the board of trustees of the Federation of State Medical Boards. On October 29, 2009, Benjamin was confirmed as Surgeon General. Benjamin has been honored with many awards, including the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights in 1998, the papal cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice from Pope Benedict XVI in 2006, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “Genius Award” in 2008, and the American Medical Association Foundation Leadership Award in 2009. Benjamin has received honorary doctorate degrees from several universities, including Dartmouth College, Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

• October 26, 1962 Louise Beavers, stage, film and television actress, died. Beavers was born March 8, 1902 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her initial acting experience was gained on the stage where she sang in many musical comedies. Her most famous film role was as the housekeeper/cook in the 1934 film “Imitation of Life,” the first time that a black woman’s problems were given emotional weight in a major Hollywood motion picture. Beavers appeared in dozens of other films, usually in the role of a maid, servant, or slave, including “Bullets or Ballots” (1936), “Make Way for Tomorrow” (1937), “The Jackie Robinson Story” (1950), and “The Facts of Life” (1960). She was also one of four actresses to play the housekeeper on the “Beulah” television show. She also played the maid in the first two television seasons of “The Danny Thomas Show.”

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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.