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Today in Black History, 10/9/2012

• October 9, 1806 Benjamin Banneker, astronomer, surveyor, and almanac author, died. Banneker was born November 9, 1731 in Ellicott’s Mills, Maryland. When he was old enough to help on his parent’s farm, his formal education ended. In 1753, he carved a wooden clock that struck hourly, using a pocket watch as a model, which continued to work until his death. He began to study astronomy using borrowed books and equipment in 1788. In 1791, Banneker was hired to assist in the survey of what is now the District of Columbia, however due to illness he only worked on the project for three months. Banneker made astronomical calculations that predicted solar and lunar eclipses that he included in a six year series of almanacs from 1792 to 1797. The almanacs included the times for the rising and setting of the sun and moon and were commercially successful. Banneker expressed his views on slavery and racial equality, including a plea for justice for African Americans, in a 1791 letter to the then United States Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. The complete correspondence between the two can be found by doing a search on “Benjamin Banneker letter to Thomas Jefferson.” His biography, “The Life of Benjamin Banneker: The First African-American Man of Science,” was published in 1972. In 1977, a commemorative obelisk was erected near his grave site by the Maryland Bicentennial Commission and the State Commission on Afro-American History and Culture. In 1980, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor as part of their Black Heritage stamp series and in 1998 the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum located on the site of his former farm was dedicated. Banneker’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• October 9, 1823 Mary Ann Camberton Shadd, educator and publisher, was born in Wilmington, Delaware. In 1840, Shadd moved to West Chester, Pennsylvania and established a school for black children. When the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 threatened to return free northern blacks to bondage, Shadd moved to Windsor, Ontario where she founded a racially integrated school. In 1853, Shadd founded The Provincial Freeman newspaper which promoted temperance, moral reform, civil rights, and black self-help. Published until 1859, it was one of the longest published black newspapers before the Civil War. In 1861, Shadd published “Voice from Harper’s Ferry,” a tribute to John Brown’s unsuccessful raid. That same year, she returned to the United States and during the Civil War served as a recruiting officer to enlist black volunteers for the Union Army. After the war, she moved to Washington D.C. where she taught school and attended Howard University Law School. In 1883 she graduated, becoming the second black woman to earn a law degree in the United States. Shadd died on June 5, 1893 and in 1976 her former residence in Washington D.C. was declared a National Historic Landmark. Her biographies include “Shadd: The Life and Times of Mary Shadd Cary” (1997) and “Mary Ann Shadd Cary: The Black Press and Protest in the Nineteenth Century” (1998).

• October 9, 1894 Eugene Jacques Bullard, the only black pilot in World War I, was born in Columbus, Georgia. While on a trip to Paris in 1914, World War I started and Bullard decided to join the French Foreign Legion. In 1916, he was wounded and awarded the Croix de Guerre. In 1917, he joined the French Air Force and flew twenty missions and is thought to have shot down two enemy aircraft. When the United States entered the war, Bullard attempted to join the U.S. Army Air Service. Although he passed the medical examination, he was not accepted because blacks were barred from flying. After the war, Bullard remained in Paris and established a successful nightclub. At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Bullard, who spoke German, agreed to spy on German agents frequenting his club. After the German invasion of France, Bullard fled Paris and in 1940 returned to the United States. When seeking work in the U.S., he found that the fame he enjoyed in France had not followed him home. He worked in a variety of jobs, including salesman and security guard. In 1949, after attending a concert by Paul Robeson to benefit the Civil Rights Congress, Bullard was beaten by an angry mob which included members of state and local law enforcement (Peekskill Riots). The beating was captured on film and can be seen in the 1970s documentary “The Tallest Tree in Our Forest.” Also, photos of the beating were published in “The Whole World in His Hands: a Pictorial Biography of Paul Robeson.” Despite recorded evidence of the beating, no one was ever prosecuted. In 1954, the French government invited Bullard to Paris to rekindle the everlasting flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and in 1959 he was made a knight of the Legion d’honneur. Despite this recognition, Bullard died in New York City in relative poverty on October 12, 1961. He was buried with military honors in the French War Veterans’ section of Flushing Cemetery in Queens, New York. Bullard’s story was told in the books “The Black Swallow of Death” (1972) and “Eugene Bullard: Black Expatriate in Jazz Age Paris” (2000). In 1994, he was posthumously commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force.

• October 9, 1906 Leopold Sedar Senghor, poet and the first President of Senegal, was born in Joal, Senegal. Senghor’s father was a successful businessman and this allowed Senghor to attend the best schools in Senegal and earn a scholarship to study in France where he graduated from the University of Paris. After graduation, he taught at the Universities of Tours and Paris. During this time, he and other African intellectuals conceived the idea of “negritude” in response to the racism in France. It was meant as a celebration of African culture and character. In 1939, Senghor enlisted as a French army officer and the following year he was taken prisoner by the Germans and spent two years in different prison camps. After the war ended in 1945, Senghor took the position of dean of the linguistics department at the Ecole Natioanale de la France d’Outre-Mer, a position he held until 1960. The Republic of Senegal gained its independence from France on June 20, 1960 and Senghor was elected the first president, a position he held until his resignation in 1980. In 1964, Senghor published the first volume of a series of five titled “Liberte” which contained speeches and essays. The fifth volume was published in 1993. Other works by Senghor include “Songs for Naeett” (1949), “Ethiopiques” (1956), and “Nocturnes” (1961). In 1983, he was elected a member of l’Academie francaise, the first African to sit at the Academie. In 1996, the airport in Dakar was renamed Aeroport International Leopold Sedar Senghor. Senghor died December 20, 2001.

• October 9, 1916 Harold Robert Perry, the first African American to serve as a Catholic bishop in the 20th century, was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana. At the age of 13, Perry entered the seminary of the Society of Divine Word and in 1938 he took his vows as a member. In 1944, he was ordained to the priesthood and then served as assistant pastor at a number of churches before returning to Louisiana as founding pastor of St. Joseph’s Church. During his six years as pastor, he built the church, a rectory, and a school. From 1958 to 1964, Perry served as rector at the Divine Word Seminary. In 1964, he became the first African American to deliver the opening prayer of the United States Congress. In 1965, Perry was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, making him the first African American of the modern era to become a Catholic bishop. He remained in that position until his death on July 17, 1991.

• October 9, 1920 Yusef Lateef, jazz multi-instrumentalist, composer, educator, and author, was born William Emanuel Huddleston in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but raised in Detroit, Michigan. By the time he graduated from high school, Lateef was a proficient enough saxophonist that he launched his professional career and began touring with a number of bands. He began recording as a leader in 1957 with the release of “The Sounds of Yusef.” As a leader, he has released more than 35 albums, including “Eastern Sounds” (1961), “Yusef Lateef’s Detroit” (1969), “In A Temple Garden” (1979), “10 Years Hence” (2008), and “Roots Run Deep” (2012). His 1987 album “Yusef Lateef’s Little Symphony” won the Grammy Award for Best New Age Album. Lateef earned his Bachelor of Music degree in 1969 and his Master of Music Education degree in 1970 from the Manhattan School of Music. In 1975, he earned his Doctor of Education degree from the University of Massachusetts. In 1992, Lateef founded YAL Records and in 1993 was commissioned to compose “The African American Epic Suite,” a four part work for orchestra and quartet based on themes of slavery and disfranchisement in the United States. Lateef has authored several books, including his autobiography “The Gentle Giant” which was published in 2006. In 2010, he was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts. Lateef continues to teach at the University of Massachusetts and Hampshire College.

• October 9, 1958 Michael Singletary, hall of fame football player and author, was born in Houston, Texas. Singletary played college football at Baylor University where he earned All-American honors in 1979 and 1980. He is the only two-time winner of the Davey O’Brien Memorial Trophy given to the most outstanding player in the Southwest Conference. He also earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1983. Singletary was selected by the Chicago Bears in the 1981 NFL Draft and over his 12 season career was known as “the heart of the defense.” He also was an eight-time All-Pro selection and NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1985 and 1988. Singletary retired from playing in 1992 and in 2003 became linebackers coach for the Baltimore Ravens. In 2008, he became the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, a position he held until 2010. He currently is a motivational speaker and an ordained minister. Singletary was inducted into the National Collegiate Football Hall of Fame in 1995 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998. In 2001, he was designated Walter Camp Man of the Year, an award given annually to an individual closely associated with football as a player or coach who has attained a measure of success and been a leader in his chosen profession. In 2011, he joined the Minnesota Vikings as coach of the linebackers. Singletary published his autobiography, “Calling the Shots: Mike Singletary,” in 1986. Other books by Singletary include “Daddy’s Home at Last: What It Takes for Dads to Put Families First” (1998) and “Singletary One – on – One” (2005).

• October 9, 1962 The Republic of Uganda gained its independence from the United Kingdom. Uganda is located in East Africa and is bordered by Kenya to the east, South Sudan to the north, the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west, Rwanda to the southwest, and Tanzania to the south. Kampala is the capital city. The country is approximately 91,100 square miles in size with a population of approximately 35,873,000 people. Approximately 84% of the population practice Christianity and 12% Islam.

• October 9, 1973 Rosetta Tharpe, hall of fame gospel singer and songwriter, died. Tharpe was born March 20, 1915 in Cotton Plant, Arkansas. She began performing at the age of four, accompanying her mother at tent revivals across the South. Tharpe made her recording debut in 1938 and soon became the first great recording star of gospel music. Her 1944 recording “Strange Things Happening Every Day” was the first gospel song to make Billboard’s “race records” Top Ten. Tharpe was so popular that in 1951 she attracted 25,000 paying customers to her wedding which was followed by a performance. In 2007, Tharpe was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and that same year her biography, “Shout, Sister, Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe,” was published. A number of musicians, including Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Isaac Hayes, and Aretha Franklin, have identified her as an important influence on their music.

• October 9, 1999 Milton Jackson, hall of fame jazz vibraphonist and composer, died. Jackson was born January 1, 1923 in Detroit, Michigan. He was discovered by Dizzy Gillespie who hired him for his sextet in 1946. Around 1950, Jackson formed his own group, the Milt Jackson Quartet which in 1952 was renamed the Modern Jazz Quartet. The Modern Jazz Quartet disbanded in 1974 and reformed in 1981 before disbanding for good in 1993. As a leader, Jackson recorded “The Ballad Artistry of Milt Jackson” (1960), “Jazz ‘n’ Samba” (1964), “Night Mist” (1980), and “Burnin’ in the Woodhouse” (1995). He also played on recordings by many leading jazz, blues, and soul artists such as B. B. King, John Coltrane, West Montgomery, and Ray Charles. Jackson was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame in 1996, designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1997, and inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1999.

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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.