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Today in Black History, 10/5/2012

• October 5, 1878 George Boyer Vashon, the first African American graduate of Oberlin College, died. Vashon was born July 25, 1824 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At an early age, Vashon displayed an aptitude for languages, speaking Sanskrit, Hebrew, and Persian and being well versed in Greek and Latin. In 1844, Vashon earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Oberlin and was valedictorian of his class. In his speech titled “Liberty of Mind” he stated, “genius, talent and learning are not withheld by our common Father from people of color.” In 1846, Vashon applied for admission to the Allegheny County bar, but his application was rejected because of his race. He therefore moved to New York State and successfully completed their bar examination in 1848, becoming the first black lawyer in New York. In 1849, Vashon moved to Port-au-Prince, Haiti where he served as professor of Latin, Greek, and English. In 1851, he returned to the United States and joined the faculty of the predominantly white New York Central College. While there, he wrote “Vincent Ogé” (1854), an epic poem on the Haitian insurrection. In 1863, Vahon became the second black president of Avery College. He later became a professor of mathematics and ancient and modern languages at Alcorn College where he served until his death.

• October 5, 1921 William Karnet Willis, hall of fame football player, was born in Columbus, Ohio. Willis played college football at Ohio State University and in 1944 was named an All-American. After graduating in 1945, he took a job as head football coach at Kentucky State College. Since the National Football League unofficially barred African Americans from playing, in 1946 Willis joined the Cleveland Browns of the All-America Football Conference, making him the first African American to play in the conference. In his rookie season, he had to sit out the game against the Miami Seahawks because African Americans were forbidden by law from competing against white players in Miami, Florida. Willis played professional football for eight seasons and was named All-Pro each season. After retiring in 1954, he focused on helping troubled youth, first as Cleveland’s assistant recreation commissioner and later as chairman of the Ohio Youth Commission. In 1971, he was inducted into the National Collegiate Football Hall of Fame and in 1977 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. On November 3, 2007, Ohio State University retired his number 99 jersey number and he died November 27, 2007.

• October 5, 1929 Autherine Juanita Lucy, the first black student to attend the University of Alabama, was born in Shiloh, Alabama. Lucy earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in English from Miles College in 1952 and wanted to attend the University of Alabama as a graduate student. Knowing that the university would reject her application due to her race, the NAACP took her case to court. On October 10, 1955 in Lucy v. Adams the United States Supreme Court upheld a court order preventing the university from rejecting the admission applications of African American students seeking admission. On February 3, 1956, Lucy enrolled as a graduate student in library science. However, on the third day of classes a hostile mob prevented her from attending classes and the university suspended her on the grounds that they could not provide a safe environment. The university overturned her suspension in 1980 and in 1992 Lucy earned a masters degree in elementary education. Today, there is a portrait of Lucy in the student union inscribed “Her initiative and courage won the right for students of all races to attend the university.”

• October 5, 1932 Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, the first African American woman to represent the West Coast in Congress, was born in Los Angeles, California. Burke earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California in 1953 and her Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Southern California Law School in 1956. She was elected to the California State Assembly in 1967 where she served until 1973 when she was elected to the United States House of Representatives. When her third term in Congress ended in 1979, she did not seek re-election. In 1979, Burke was appointed to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, becoming the first female and the first African American supervisor. She was defeated for re-election in 1980, but was re-elected to the board in 1992 where she served until her retirement in 2008. In 2012, President Barack Obama appointed Burke to the Amtrak board of directors.

• October 5, 1951 Donald Kaberuka, economist and current president of the African Development Bank, was born in Byumba, Rwanda. Kaberuka earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Dars es Salaam in Tanzania and his Master of Philosophy degree and Ph.D. in economics from the University of Glasgow. He worked in banking and international trade for over a decade before being appointed minister of finance and economic planning for Rwanda in 1997. Kaberuka held that position until he was elected president of the African Development Bank.

• October 5, 1954 Oscar McKinley Charleston, hall of fame Negro League baseball player and manager, died. Charleston was born October 14, 1896 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He joined the United States Army at the age of 15 and served in the Philippines. He began his professional baseball career in 1915 with the Indianapolis ABC’s and over his career had a .348 batting average and regularly finished amongst the leaders in home runs and stolen bases. In 1932, Charleston became player/manager of the Pittsburgh Crawfords and presided over what many consider the best Negro League team ever. Charleston retired in 1941 and was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976.

• October 5, 1957 Bernard Jeffrey “Bernie Mac” McCullough, comedian and actor, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Mac started as a stand-up comedian around Chicago and in 1989 won the Miller Lite Comedy Search. His first major acting role was in the 1995 film “Friday.” That was followed by other roles in films primarily directed at black audiences. In 2001, he was able to break from the traditional “black comedy” genre with his role in “Ocean’s Eleven.” Also in 2001, his semi-autobiographical situation comedy “The Bernie Mac Show” debuted on Fox Television. That show won a 2001 Peabody Award for Excellence in Broadcasting and the 2002 Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing. In 2002 and 2003, Mac was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. In 2004, Mac had his first starring role in the film “Mr. 3000.” Mac died on August 9, 2008. Just prior to his death he completed work on the film “Soul Man” which was released in 2008.

• October 5, 1962 Michael Alex Conley, Sr., hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Conley competed at the University of Arkansas where he won 16 NCAA long jump and triple jump championships. He still holds the United States indoor record in the triple jump. Conley won the Silver medal in the triple jump at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games and the Gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. He won the USA Track & Field Jim Thorp Award in 1986 and 1992 as the top field events athlete in the U.S. Conley was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of fame in 2004. He is currently on the board of directors of World Sports Chicago, which focuses on promoting and developing sport programs and events for the youth of Chicago, and is CEO of MMG Sports Management.

• October 5, 1992 Edward James “Eddie” Kendricks, hall of fame singer and songwriter, died. Kendricks was born December 17, 1939 in Union Springs, Alabama. In 1955, he and three friends formed a group called The Cavaliers who moved to Detroit in 1957 and changed their name to The Primes. In 1961, Kendricks joined The Elgins who signed with Motown as The Temptations. The Temptations quickly became the most successful male vocal group of the 1960s with Kendricks singing lead on “Dream Come True” (1962), their first single on the charts, “The Way We Do the Things We Do” (1964), which Kendricks co-wrote, and “Just My Imagination” (1971). Kendricks quit The Temptations in May, 1971 and embarked on a solo career. He scored a number one hit in 1973 with “Keep on Truckin’.” Other hits include “Boogie Down” (1974) and “He’s a Friend” (1976). Kendricks and the original Temptations were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.

• October 5, 2011 Fred Shuttlesworth, minister and civil rights activist, died. Shuttlesworth was born Freddie Lee Robinson on March 18, 1922 in Mount Meigs, Alabama. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Selma University, his Master of Arts degree in education from Alabama State College in 1955, and his divinity degree from Birmingham Baptist College in 1969. In 1956, Shuttlesworth was membership chairman of the Alabama chapter of the NAACP when the state outlawed it from operating. As a result, Shuttlesworth co-founded the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights to do the work formally done by the NAACP. On Christmas day that year, Shuttlesworth’s home was bombed causing significant damage to the house, but not injuring anyone. When told afterwards to get out of town, Shuttlesworth replied, “I wasn’t saved to run.” In 1957, while he and his wife were attempting to enroll their children in a previously all-white public school in Birmingham, he was severely beaten and she was stabbed. Also that year, Shuttlesworth co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Shuttlesworth was a key figure in the 1963 Birmingham campaign, the 1964 St. Augustine, Florida campaign, and the 1965 Selma to Montgomery, Alabama march. In 1961, Shuttlesworth moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to head a church and continue to work against racism and the problems of the poor and homeless. He retired from the ministry in 2006 and returned to Birmingham. In 2001, he was presented the Presidential Citizens Medal by President William Clinton and in 2008 the Birmingham airport was renamed the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. Several biographies have been published about Shuttlesworth, including “A Walk to Freedom: The Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, 1954-1964” (1998) and “A Fire You Can’t Put Out: The Civil Rights Life of Birmingham’s Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth” (1999).

• October 5, 2011 Derrick Albert Bell, Jr., the first tenured African American professor of law at Harvard University and the originator of Critical Race Theory, died. Bell was born November 6, 1930 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1952 from Duquesne University. After serving in Korea in the United States Army from 1952 to 1954, Bell earned his Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1957. After graduating, he joined the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department. In 1959, Bell was asked to resign his membership in the NAACP because it was thought that his objectivity might be compromised. Rather than give up his membership, he quit the job. Bell then joined the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund where he supervised more than 300 school desegregation cases, including leading the effort to secure admission of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi. In 1969, Bell was hired to teach at Harvard Law School and in 1971 became their first black tenured professor. In 1980, he became dean of the University of Oregon School of Law, but resigned in 1985 over a dispute about faculty diversity. He returned to Harvard in 1986, but took an extended leave in 1990 over hiring practices at the university. Bell then became a visiting professor at New York University. Bell authored several books, including “Race, Racism and American Law” (1973) and “The Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism” (1992).

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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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