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Today in Black History, 10/29/2012

• October 29, 1866 James Pierson Beckwourth, mountain man, fur trader, and explorer, died. Beckwourth was born enslaved on April 6, 1798 in Frederick County, Virginia. His owner emancipated him in 1824 and Beckwourth joined a fur trapping company on an expedition to explore the Rocky Mountains. In 1826, he was captured by the Crow Indians and for the next 8 or 9 years lived with them, rising in their society from warrior to chief. During the Mexican American War, Beckwourth served as a courier for the United States Army. In 1850, he was credited for discovering what came to be called the Beckwourth Pass, a passage through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In the mid-1850s, Beckwourth began ranching in the Sierra and his ranch, trading post, and hotel were the starting settlement of what became Beckwourth, California. In 1996, in recognition of his contribution to the city’s development, the City of Marysville, California officially renamed the city’s largest park Beckwourth Riverfront Park. Beckwourth published his autobiography, “The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth: Mountaineer, Scout and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians,” in 1856.

• October 29, 1870 Martha Minerva Franklin, hall of fame nurse and founder of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses, was born in New Milford, Connecticut. Franklin graduated from the Women’s Hospital Training School in 1897, the only black graduate in her class, and in the early 1900s moved to New Haven, Connecticut. After two years of investigating the nursing field, she determined that although black nurses could join the American Nurses Association they were restricted from addressing the issues of segregation and discrimination. As a result on August 25, 1908, Franklin hosted a meeting of 52 black nurses that resulted in the founding of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses with Franklin as president. The NACGN grew to an organization of 12,000 members from almost every state in the nation. By 1951, most of the groups aspirations had been met and they merged with the American Nurses Association. Franklin continued with her education and became a registered nurse with the New York public school system. She died on September 26, 1968. In 1976, Franklin was posthumously inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame as one of the pioneers of the nursing field.

• October 29, 1889 John Standard of Newark, New Jersey received patent number 413,689 for an improved oil stove that was used in places where space was limited. His invention provided attachments which enabled the cooking of a variety of foods at one time and could be used for buffet style meals on trains. Standard also received patent number 455,891 on July 14, 1891 for an improved refrigerator design. His refrigerator used a manually filled ice chamber for chilling. Not much else is known of Standard’s life.

• October 29, 1938 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia, was born in Monrovia, Liberia. Johnson-Sirleaf earned her bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and in 1971 earned her Master of Public Administration degree from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. From 1972 to 1973, she served as assistant minister of finance and from 1979 to 1980 as minister of finance for Liberia. As a result of disagreements with the government in power, Johnson-Sirleaf spent much of the 1980s and 1990s in exile. In 1996, she returned to Liberia and in 2005 was elected President of Liberia, the first female head of state in Africa. In 2007, Johnson-Sirleaf was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States government’s highest civilian honor, by President George W. Bush. She has also received honorary Doctor of Law degrees from several universities, including Indiana University and Yale University. Johnson-Sirleaf was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. She published her autobiography, “This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa’s First Woman President,” in 2009. In 2011, Johnson-Sirleaf was elected to a second five year term.

• October 29, 1945 Melba Moore, R&B singer and actress, was born Beatrice Melba Smith in New York City. Moore earned her Bachelor of Music Education degree from Montclair State Teacher’s College and taught music for a year in the Newark Public School System. She began her performing career in 1967 in the cast of “Hair.” In 1970, Moore won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for her role in “Purlie.” She followed that performance with two successful albums, “I Got Love” (1970) and “Look What You’re Doing to the Man” (1971). Other hits by Moore include “This Is It” (1976), “Love’s Comin’ At Ya” (1982), “Livin’ For Your Love” (1984), and “Falling” (1986). In 2003, she appeared in the film “The Fighting Temptations.” In addition to the Tony Award, Moore has been nominated for four Grammy Awards.

• October 29, 1969 George Murphy “Pops” Foster, jazz string bassist, died. Foster was born May 19, 1892 in Ascension Parish, Louisiana. By 1907, Foster was playing professionally, working in bands such as King Oliver’s and Kid Ory’s. In 1929, he moved to New York City where he played with various bands, including Louis Armstrong’s. In the late 1940s, Foster began touring more widely and played in many European countries. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he played with Earl Hines’ Small Band. “The Autobiography of Pops Foster” was published in 1971.

• October 29, 1969 The United States Supreme Court decided in Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education that, “The obligation of every school district is to terminate dual school systems at once and to operate now and hereafter only unitary schools.” In 1955’s Brown v. Board of Education II, the Supreme Court had ordered that desegregation occur with “all deliberate speed.” As a result, schools in the South were desegregating slowly if at all. The Alexander ruling stated that “all deliberate speed” was no longer permissible.

• October 29, 1973 Vonetta Flowers, the first black person to win a Gold medal at the Winter Olympic Games, was born in Birmingham, Alabama. Flowers went to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) on a track and field scholarship and earned her Bachelor of Science degree in physical education in 1995. She aspired to make the United States Summer Olympic team but after several failed attempts turned to making the Winter Olympic team as a bobsledder. At the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, she won a Gold medal in the two-woman bobsledding event. Flowers also competed at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympic Games, finishing sixth in the event. She retired from competition after the games. Flowers published her autobiography, “Running On Ice: The Overcoming Faith of Vonetta Flowers,” in 2005. She is currently an assistant track and field coach at UAB.

• October 29, 1986 Eva Beatrice Dykes, the first black female to fulfill the requirements for a doctorial degree, died. Dykes was born August 13, 1893 in Washington, D.C. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree summa cum laude from Howard University in 1914. She then attended Radcliffe College where she earned her second Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude in 1917 and her Master of Arts degree in 1918. She also was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In 1921, Dykes completed the requirements for her doctorial degree but because Radcliffe held its graduation later than some other universities, she was the third black woman to actually receive her Ph.D. From 1929 to 1942, Dykes taught English at Howard University and from 1944 to her retirement in 1975 she was chair of the English Department at Oakwood College. Dykes co-authored “Readings from Negro Authors for Schools and Colleges” in 1931 and authored “The Negro in English Romantic Thought: Or a Study in Sympathy for the Oppressed” in 1942. In 1973, the Oakwood College library was named in her honor.

• October 29, 1994 Pearl Primus, dancer, choreographer, and anthropologist, died. Primus was born November 29, 1919 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Hunter College in 1940. Early in her career, Primus saw the need to promote African dance as an art form worthy of study and performance. In 1943, she presented her first composition, “African Ceremonial.” She was the first dancer to present the African American experience within the framework of social protest in dances such as “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (1944), “Strange Fruit” (1945), and “Hard Time Blues” (1945). In 1959, Primus earned her Master of Arts degree in education and in 1978 her Ph.D. in dance education from New York University. In 1979, she created “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore” about the 1963 Birmingham, Alabama church bombing. From 1984 to 1990, Primus served as professor of ethnic studies at the Five Colleges Consortium in Massachusetts and in 1990 she became the first chair of the Five Colleges Dance Consortium. In 1991, President George H. W. Bush presented Primus with the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States. Primus’ biography, “The Dance Claimed Me: A Biography of Pearl Primus,” was published in 2011.

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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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