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Today in Black History, 11/10/2012

• November 10, 1828 Lott Cary, the first American Baptist missionary to Africa, died. Cary was born enslaved in 1780 in Charles City County, Virginia. As a young man, he learned to read from the bible and later attended a school for enslaved youth. Because of his education, diligence, and valuable work, Cary was rewarded by his master with small tips from the money he earned. In 1813, Cary was able to purchase his freedom and that of his two children for $850. That same year, he became an official Baptist minister. In 1821, Cary led a missionary team to Liberia where they engaged in evangelism, education, and health care. He also established the first Baptist church in Liberia, the Providence Baptist Church in Monrovia which celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2001, and several schools. In August, 1828, Cary became acting governor of Liberia. Cary street and the Carytown shopping district in Richmond, Virginia are named in his honor and the Lott Cary House is designated a state historical landmark. The Lott Cary Foreign Mission Convention helps churches extend their Christian witness to the end of the earth.

• November 10, 1891 Granville T. Woods was awarded patent number 463,020 for his invention of the Electric Railway System. Woods was born April 23, 1856 in Columbus, Ohio and dedicated his life to developing a variety of improvements related to the railroad industry and controlling the flow of electricity. In 1884, he and his brother formed the Woods Railway Telegraph Company to manufacture and sell telephone and telegraph equipment. In 1885, he patented an apparatus which was a combination of a telephone and telegraph which allowed a telegraph station to send voice and telegraph messages over a single wire. In 1887, he patented the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph which allowed communications between stations from moving trains and in 1889 he patented an improvement to the steam-boiler furnace. In addition to these, Woods received more than 50 other patents and was known to many people of his time as “the Black Thomas Edison.” Despite these inventions, Woods died virtually penniless on January 30, 1910. The Granville T. Woods Math and Science Community Academy in Chicago, Illinois is named in his honor.

• November 10, 1919 Moise Kapenda Tshombe, Congolese politician, was born in Musumba, Congo. In the 1950s, Tshombe founded the CONAKAT political party which espoused an independent, federal Congo. On August 16, 1960, when the Congo became an independent republic, CONAKAT won control of the Katanga provincial legislature. They declared Katanga’s secession from the rest of the Congo and Tshombe was elected president. The United Nations forced Katanga to submit to Congolese rule and Tshombe went into exile in 1963. In 1964, he returned to the Congo to serve as prime minister in a coalition government. However in 1965, Joseph Mobutu brought treason charges against Tshombe and he was forced to flee the country again. Tshombe died June 29, 1969 under house arrest in Algeria. His biographies include “Tshombe” (1967) and “The Rise and Fall of Moise Tshombe: A Biography” (1968).

• November 10, 1934 George Alexander McGuire, bishop and founder of the African Orthodox Church, died. McGuire was born March 26, 1866 in Sweets, Antigua. He was educated at the Antigua branch of Mico College for teachers and at the Moravian Miskey Seminary. From 1888 to 1894, he was pastor of a Moravian church in the Danish West Indies. McGuire came to the United States in 1894, joined the Episcopal Church, and in 1897 became an ordained priest. In 1905, he became the church’s highest ranking African American and the first to become an archdeacon when he was appointed Archdeacon for Colored Work in the Diocese of Arkansas where he served until 1909. As McGuire traveled though the U.S., he became discouraged by the dismal prospects for black people in the Episcopal Church. In 1913, he left the denomination and returned to the West Indies. McGuire returned to the U.S. in 1918 and joined the Universal Negro Improvement Association and was appointed the first chaplain-general of the organization. In 1921, McGuire founded the African Orthodox Church which he envisioned as a home for black people of the Protestant Episcopal persuasion who wanted ecclesiastical independence. McGuire stated “You must forget the white gods. Erase the white gods from your hearts. We must go back to the native church, to our own true God.” In 1924, McGuire was elected archbishop of the church and at the time of his death, the AOC claimed over 30,000 members and 30 churches on 3 continents.

• November 10, 1939 Hubert Laws, Jr., jazz and classical flutist and saxophonist, was born in Houston, Texas. Laws began playing the flute in high school and at the age of 15 was a member of the Jazz Crusaders. In 1960, he won a scholarship to the Julliard School of Music in New York City. In 1964, Laws began recording as a bandleader. These recordings include “The Laws of Jazz” (1964), “Wild Flower” (1972), “Make It Last” (1983), and “Flute Adaptations of Rachmanivnov & Barber” (2009). From 1969 to 1972, Laws played with the New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Laws was named the number one flutist by Downbeat Magazine in 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011. He has been nominated for three Grammy Awards and in 2011 was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts.

• November 10, 1963 Michael Anthony Powell, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Powell attended the University of California at Los Angeles and at the 1991 World Championships in Athletics broke the 23 year old long jump world record. His record still stands. That year he won the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States. Powell won Silver medals in the long jump at the 1988 Seoul and 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. He retired from track and field in 1996 and is currently an analyst for Yahoo! Sports Olympic Track and Field coverage. Powell was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2005.

• November 10, 1994 Carmen Mercedes McRae, jazz singer, composer, pianist, and actress, died. McRae was born April 8, 1920 in Harlem, New York. She began studying the piano at the age of eight. In her twenties, she played piano with a number of jazz greats, including Benny Carter, Count Basie, and Mercer Ellington. In 1954, McRae recorded her self-titled debut album and that same year was voted Best New Female Vocalist by Down Beat Magazine. Other albums by McRae include “After Glow” (1957), “For Once in My Life” (1967), and “Sarah: Dedicated to You” (1990). McRae considered Billie Holliday to be her primary influence and in 1983 recorded an album in her honor entitled “For Lady Day” which was released in 1995. McRae was nominated for seven Grammy Awards and is considered one of the most influential jazz vocalists of the 20th century. In 1994, she was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor that the United States bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts.

• November 10, 1995 Kenule “Ken” Beeson Saro-Wiwa, author, businessman, and environmental activist, was executed by hanging by the Nigerian military. Saro-Wiwa was born October 10, 1941 in Bori, the Niger Delta. During the Nigerian Civil War, he was a supporter of the federal cause against the Biafrans. His best known books, “Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English” (1986) and “On a Darkling Plain” (1989), document his experiences during the war. In 1990, Saro-Wiwa began devoting most of his time to human rights and environmental causes. He was one of the earliest members of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People which advocated for increased autonomy for the Ogani people, a fair share of the proceeds from oil extraction, and remediation of environmental damage to Ogani land. In May, 1994, Saro-Wiwa was arrested and accused of incitement to murder, imprisoned for over a year, and found guilty in 1995. The trial and execution was criticized around the world and resulted in Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations for three years. Saro-Wiwa’s diary, “A Month and a Day: A Detention Diary,” was published two months after his execution. His biography, “In the Shadow of a Saint: A Son’s Journey to Understand His Father’s Legacy,” was published in 2005. A memorial to Saro-Wiwa was unveiled in London on November 10, 2006.

• November 10, 2006 Benny Andrews, painter, printmaker, and educator, died. Andrews was born November 13, 1930 in Plainview, Georgia. After serving in the United States Air Force as a staff sergeant from 1950 to 1954, he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1958. Andrews had his first New York City solo art show in 1962. In 1969, he co-founded the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition to protest the fact that no African Americans were involved in organizing the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit “Harlem on my Mind.” From 1982 to 1984, Andrews was director of visual arts for the National Endowment for the Arts and in 1983 he was instrumental in forming the National Arts Program which is the largest coordinated visual arts program in the nation’s history. From 1968 to 1997, Andrews taught at Queens College, City University of New York and created a prison art program that became a model for the nation. In 2006, he went to the Gulf Coast to work on an art project with children displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Andrews’ works are in the collections of many museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the High Museum of Art, and the Studio Museum in Harlem.

• November 10, 2006 Gerald Edward Levert, singer, songwriter, and producer, died. Levert was born July 13, 1966 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but raised in Cleveland, Ohio. While in high school, he formed the group LeVert in 1984. Four of the group’s seven albums, “I Get Her” (1985), “Bloodline” (1986), “The Big Throwdown” (1987), and “Just Coolin’” (1988), went platinum. In 1991, Levert released his first solo album, “Private Line,” which went to number one on the R&B charts. Other solo albums by Levert include “Groove On” (1994), “Gerald’s World” (2001), and “Voices” (2005). In 1997, Levert joined the group LSG and they released “Levert-Sweat-Gill” (1997) and “LSG2” (2003). After his death, the album “In My Songs” was released. Levert was nominated for four Grammy Awards and posthumously won the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Traditional R&B Performance for “In My Songs.” In 2007, his book “I Got Your Back: A Father and Son Keep It Real about Love, Fatherhood, Family, and Friendship” was published.

• November 10, 2007 Augustus Freeman Hawkins, the first African American to represent California in Congress, died. Hawkins was born August 31, 1907 in Shreveport, Louisiana. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from the University of California in 1931. In 1935, he was elected to the California State Assembly where he served until 1963. That year, Hawkins was elected to the United States House of Representatives where he authored legislation to establish the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Job Training Partnership Act, the School Improvement Act, and the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act. Over his career, Hawkins authored more than 300 state and federal laws. Hawkins was also a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus. He retired from Congress in 1991. The Augustus F. Hawkins Natural Park and Augustus F. Hawkins Mental Health Center in Los Angeles, California are named in his honor.

• November 10, 2008 Zenzile Miriam Makeba, singer and civil rights activist, died. Makeba was born March 4, 1932 in Johannesburg, South Africa. She began her professional singing career in the 1950s with the Manhattan Brothers before she formed her own group, The Skylarks, singing a blend of jazz and traditional South African melodies. In 1959, Makeba appeared in an anti-apartheid documentary “Come Back, Africa” and in 1960 her South African passport was revoked by the government. After testifying against apartheid in 1963 before the United Nations, her South African citizenship and right to return to the country were revoked. In 1966, Makeba and Harry Belafonte received the Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording for “An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba” which dealt with the political plight of Black South Africans under apartheid. Other albums by Makeba include “The Magic of Makeba” (1965), “Eyes on Tomorrow” (1991), and “Reflecting” (2004). In 1987, Makeba published her autobiography “Makeba: My Story” and in 1992 she starred in the movie “Sarafina.” In 1986, Makeba won the Dag Hammarskjold Peace Prize and in 2001 she was awarded the Gold Otto Hahn Peace Medal “for outstanding service to peace and international understanding.”

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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.