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Today in Black History, 10/6/2012

• October 6, 1824 Thomas Mundy Peterson, the first African American to cast a vote after the passage of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, was born in Metuchen, New Jersey. By March 31, 1870, he was serving as a school custodian and general handyman in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. On that date, Peterson cast his vote in a local election to revise the town’s charter. After that was approved, he was appointed to the committee to revise the charter. Peterson later became the town’s first African American to hold elected office and also the first to serve on a jury. Peterson died February 4, 1904 and decades afterwards, the school where he worked was renamed in his honor. In New Jersey, March 31 is annually celebrated as Thomas Mundy Peterson Day in recognition of his historic vote.

• October 6, 1871 The Fisk Jubilee Singers began their first national tour. The nine member choral ensemble was created by George L. White, Fisk University treasurer and music professor, to tour and earn money for the university. As a gesture of hope and encouragement, White named them The Jubilee Singers, a biblical reference to the year of Jubilee in the Book of Leviticus, Chapter 25. In 1872, they sang at the World Peace Festival in Boston, Massachusetts and at the end of the year President Ulysses S. Grant invited them to perform at the White House. In 1873, the group grew to eleven members and toured Europe for the first time. Funds raised that year were used to construct the school’s first permanent building, Jubilee Hall, and in the building is a floor to ceiling portrait of the original Jubilee Singers commissioned by Queen Victoria during the tour as a gift from England to Fisk. In 1975, the building was designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior. The Jubilee Singers continue to perform as a touring ensemble and in 1996 the National Arts Club honored them with a Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award. Their multi-media package, “In Bright Mansions,” was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Recording Package in 2004. In 2000, they were inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, in 2002 the Library of Congress honored their 1909 recording of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” by adding it to the United States National Recording Registry as a recording of “cultural, historical, or aesthetical importance,” in 2006 the group was honored on the Music City Walk of Fame, and in 2008 they were awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor conferred on artist by the United States. Annually, October 6 is celebrated as Jubilee Day to commemorate that first national tour. “Dark Midnight When I Rise: The Story of The Fisk Jubilee Singers” was published in 2000.

• October 6, 1912 Susan Baker King Taylor, educator and humanitarian, died. Taylor was born enslaved on August 6, 1848 in Liberty County, Georgia. As a young girl, she was taught to read and write by black women. In 1862, during the Civil War, her family moved to Union controlled St. Simons Island where at the age of 14 she organized a school for the children on the island. This made her the first black teacher to openly instruct African American children in Georgia. In 1866, her family returned to Savannah, Georgia where she established a school for freed black children. In the early 1870s, Taylor moved to Boston, Massachusetts where she joined and became president of the Women’s Relief Corps which gave assistance to soldiers and hospitals. Taylor published her memoir, “Reminiscences of My Life in Camp: An African American Woman’s Civil War Memoir,” in 1902.

• October 6, 1917 Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer, voting rights activist and civil rights leader, was born in Sunflower County, Mississippi. In 1961, Hamer was sterilized by a white doctor, without her knowledge or consent, as part of the state of Mississippi’s plan to reduce the number of poor blacks in the state. In 1962, she began working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to register African Americans to vote. In the summer of 1964, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party was organized to challenge Mississippi’s all-white and anti-civil rights delegation to the Democratic National Convention and Hamer was elected vice chairperson. Although their efforts were unsuccessful that year, they did cause the Democratic Party to adopt a clause which demanded equality of representation from their state’s delegation in 1968 and Hamer was seated as a member of Mississippi’s delegation to the Democratic National Convention that year. Hamer died on March 14, 1977 and her tombstone reads “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Several books have been written about Hamer, including “Fannie Lou Hamer and the Fight for the Vote” (1993) and “For Freedom’s Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer.” Hamer’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• October 6, 1921 Joseph Echols Lowery, minister and “the dean of the Civil Rights Movement,” was born in Huntsville, Alabama. Lowery earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Paine College and his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Paine Theological Seminary in 1950. He later completed a doctorate of divinity degree at the Chicago Ecumenical Institute. In 1955, he helped lead the Montgomery bus boycott and in 1957 co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Lowery served as president of SCLC from 1977 to 1997. Lowery also co-founded and was president of the Black Leadership Forum, a consortium of advocacy groups that protested apartheid in South Africa. He is now retired from the ministry, but remains active in the civil rights movement. Lowery has received a number of awards, including the NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997 and the National Urban League’s Whitney M. Young, Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004. Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard in Atlanta is named in his honor as is the Joseph E. Lowery Institute for Justice & Human Rights at Clark Atlanta University. In 2009, Lowery was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama. In 2011, he published “Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land.”

• October 6, 1949 Lonnie George Johnson, inventor of the Super Soaker, was born in Mobile, Alabama. Johnson earned his Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering in 1973 and his Master of Science degree in nuclear engineering in 1976 from Tuskegee University. After graduating, he worked for the United States Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in various capacities from 1978 to 1987. On May 7, 1986, Johnson received patent number 4,591,071 for the Power Drencher, a high powered water gun. It was 1989 before Johnson could find a company to manufacture and distribute his invention. By 1992, the Super Soaker was the number one selling toy in America and over the years have generated close to one billion dollars in sales. In 1991, Johnson formed his own company, Johnson Research and Development. He continues to create gadgets ranging from a new type of rechargeable battery to an advanced dart gun. Johnson has close to 100 patents in his name.

• October 6, 1955 Anthony Kevin “Tony” Dungy, the first African American head coach to win the Super Bowl, was born in Jackson, Michigan. Dungy played quarterback for the University of Minnesota from 1973 to 1976 and finished his college career as Minnesota’s career leader in passing yards and touchdowns. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1977. Dungy played in the National Football League as a defensive back from 1977 to 1979. After his retirement as a player, Dungy served as a defensive coach for several professional teams from 1981 to 1994. In 1994, Dungy was hired as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In his five seasons with them, he led them to four playoff appearances and won their division in 1999. In 2002, Dungy was hired as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. In his six seasons coaching the Colts, Dungy led them to the playoffs each season and on February 4, 2007 they won the Super Bowl, making him the first African American head coach to accomplish that. That same year, he won the Amos Alonzo Stagg Coaching Award. In 2009, Dungy retired from professional football. Since retirement, Dungy has served as an analyst on NBC’s Sunday night football pre-game show and served as national spokesman for the fatherhood program All-Pro Dad. His memoir, “Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, and Priorities of a Winning Life” was published in 2007 and was number one on the New York Times Best Seller list. He also published “Uncommon: Finding Your Path to Significance” in 2009 and “The Mentor Leader” in 2010.

• October 6, 2006 John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil, Negro League baseball player and manager and the first African American to coach in the major leagues, died. O’Neil was born November 13, 1911 in Carrabelle, Florida. In 1937, he signed a contract with the Memphis Red Sox in the Negro League. The next year his contract was sold to the Kansas City Monarchs where he played first base for the next 12 seasons. In 1948, O’Neil was named manager of the Monarchs and served in that capacity for eight seasons. After resigning from the Monarchs in 1955, he became a scout for the Chicago Cubs and is credited with signing hall of famer Lou Brock to his first contract. In 1962, he was named the first black coach in the major leagues by the Cubs. In 1988, O’Neil became a scout for the Kansas City Royals and in 1998 was named Midwest Scout of the Year. In 1990, O’Neil led the effort to establish the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri and served as honorary board chairman until his death. On December 7, 2006, O’Neil was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President George W. Bush. In 2007, the Baseball Hall of Fame inaugurated the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award and posthumously made O’Neil the first recipient. His autobiography, “I Was Right on Time: My Journey from the Negro Leagues to the Majors,” was published in 1997.

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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.