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Today in Black History, 11/12/2012

• November12, 1875 Egbert Austin “Bert” Williams, hall of fame comedian and the pre-eminent black entertainer of his era, was born in Nassau, Bahamas. Williams moved to San Francisco, California to study civil engineering, but instead joined a minstrel show. In 1893, he formed the team of Williams and Walker with his partner George Walker and they performed song and dance numbers, comic dialogues, and skits. In 1896, they headlined the Koster and Bial’s vaudeville house for 36 weeks and popularized the cakewalk dance. Williams and Walker appeared in a succession of hit shows, including “Sons of Ham” (1900), “In Dahomey” (1902), which on February 18, 1903 became the first black musical to open on Broadway, and “Abyssinia” (1906). Williams composed and recorded many songs, including “Nobody” which sold between 100,000 and 150,000 copies, a phenomenal total for the era. In 1909, Walker was forced to leave their partnership due to ill health and in 1910 Williams joined the Ziegfeld Follies as the featured performer amid an otherwise all-white show. By 1920, when 10,000 sales was considered a successful release, Williams had four songs that shipped between 180,000 and 250,000 copies and was one of the three most highly paid recording artists in the world. Williams died March 4, 1922. On November 18, 1944, the U.S. Liberty ship SS Bert Williams was launched in his honor and in 1996 he was posthumously inducted into the International Clown Hall of Fame. The many books about Williams include “Nobody: The Story of Bert Williams” (1970), “The Last Darky: Bert Williams, Black- on-Black Minstrelsy, and the African Diaspora” (2005), and “Introducing Bert Williams: Burnt Cork, Broadway, and the Story of America’s First Black Star” (2008). Williams’ name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• November 12, 1896 Moses Williams received the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, for his actions during an engagement in the foothills of the Cuchillo Negro Mountains in New Mexico during the Indian Wars. Williams was born October 10, 1845 in Carrollton, Louisiana. Not much is known of his early life, but by August 16, 1881, he was serving as a first sergeant in Company I of the 9th Cavalry Regiment. His citation reads, “Rallied a detachment, skillfully conducted a running fight of 3 or 4 hours, and by his coolness, bravery, and unflinching devotion to duty in standing by his commanding officer in an exposed position under a heavy fire from a large party of Indians saved the lives of at least 3 of his comrades.” Williams reached the rank of ordinance sergeant before leaving the army in 1898. He died August 23, 1899.

• November 12, 1911 Wilbur Dorsey “Buck” Clayton, jazz trumpeter and arranger, was born in Parsons, Kansas. Clayton started playing the piano at the age of six and switched to the trumpet when he was a teenager. After high school, he moved to Los Angeles, California and formed a band. From 1934 to 1937, Clayton led a band in Shanghai, China where he is credited with having a major influence on Chinese music. From 1937 to 1943, he played in the Count Basie Orchestra. Clayton served in the United States military from 1943 to 1946. Clayton recorded seven albums as a leader, including “The Classic Swing of Buck Clayton” (1946), “Buck & Buddy” (1960), and “Buck Clayton All-Stars” (1961). Clayton had lip surgery in 1969 and had to quit playing the trumpet in 1972. He taught at Hunter College from 1975 to the early 1980s. Clayton was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1991 and died December 8, 1991. His autobiography, “Buck Clayton’s Jazz World,” was published in 1986.

• November 12, 1922 Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority was founded by seven school teachers on the campus of Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. The aim of the sorority is to enhance the quality of life within the community with programs and activities, including public service, leadership development, and the education of young people. Today there are more than 90,000 members with more than 500 undergraduate and alumnae chapters throughout the United States and around the world. Notable members include Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Alice Childress, Marilyn McCoo, and Victoria Rowell.

• November 12, 1941 The National Negro Opera Company was founded in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania by Mary Cardwell Dawson. The company had guilds in various cities in the northeastern United States and had a repertory that included “Aida,” “La Traviata,” “Carmen,” and “Faust.” The company ceased operations shortly after Ms. Dawson’s death on March 19, 1962.

• November 12, 1944 Booker T. Jones, hall of fame instrumentalist, songwriter, and arranger, was born in Memphis, Tennessee. Jones was a child prodigy, playing the oboe, saxophone, trombone, piano and organ while in school. He began playing professionally at sixteen, playing saxophone on “Cause I Love You” by Rufus and Carla Thomas. While still in high school he formed the group Booker T and the MG’s and in 1962 wrote their first hit, “Green Onions.” In addition, Jones co-wrote “I’ve Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do),” “I Love You More Than Words Can Say,” and “Born Under a Bad Sign.” He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in applied music in 1966 from the University of Indiana. Jones was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. In 2009, he released “Potato Hole” which won the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Album and in 2011 he released “The Road from Memphis.” In 2012, “Green Onions” was added to the National Recording Registry as a recording of “cultural, historical or aesthetical importance” and Jones received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance from the American Music Association.

• November 12, 1944 Kenneth Ray Houston, hall of fame football player, was born in Lufkin, Texas. Houston played college football at Prairie View A&M University. He also ran track and was on the swim team. He was selected by the Houston Oilers of the American Football League in the 1967 AFL Draft. During his 14 seasons as a professional defensive back, Houston was a 12-time All Pro and in 1971 set an NFL record with five touchdown returns. Houston retired in 1980 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986. From 1982 to 1985, Houston was the defensive backfield coach for the Oilers and from 1986 to 1990 the defensive backfield coach for the University of Houston. Since 1990, he has worked for the Houston Independent School District as a guidance counselor for children in hospitals, home bound, or placed in child care agencies by the State of Texas. Houston also serves on the board of the Prairie View A&M Foundation.

• November 12, 1968 Samuel Peralta Sosa, retired major league baseball player, was born in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. Sosa made his major league debut in 1989 and over his 18 year professional career hit 609 home runs, was a seven time All-Star selection, and in 1998 was the National League Most Valuable Player. That same year, he won the Roberto Clemente Award as the major league baseball player that “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” Sosa retired from professional baseball in September, 2007 and currently lives in the Dominican Republic.

• November 12, 1984 Chester Bomar Himes, writer, died. Hines was born July 29, 1909 in Jefferson City, Missouri. In 1928, Himes was sent to prison for armed robbery. In prison, he wrote short stories and had them published in national magazines. His first stories were published in Esquire Magazine in 1934. Himes was released from prison in 1936 and in the 1940s began to produce novels. His novels encompassed many genres and often explored racism in the United States. His best known works are “If He Hollers Let Him Go” (1945), “The Real Cool Killers” (1959), and “Cotton Comes To Harlem” (1965). “Cotton Comes to Harlem” was made into a movie in 1970 and his “For Love of Imabelle” (1957) was made into the movie “A Rage In Harlem” in 1991. In 1958, Himes won France’s Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere, their most prestigious award for crime and detective fiction. In 1969, fleeing racial oppression, Himes moved to Spain where he died. Himes produced two autobiographies, “The Quality of Hurt” (1973) and “My Life of Absurdity” (1976).

• November 12, 1992 Charles “Honi” Coles, hall of fame tap dancer and actor, died. Coles was born April 2, 1911 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He developed his high-speed rhythm tapping on the streets of his hometown. In 1940, while dancing with the Cab Calloway band, he teamed with Charles “Cholly” Atkins to form Coles & Atkins. Their partnership lasted 19 years. Coles made his Broadway debut in the 1949 production of “Gentleman Prefer Blondes.” He also appeared in “Bubbling Brown Sugar” in 1976. His performance in the 1983 production of “My One and Only” earned him both the Tony and Drama Desk Awards for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. During the 1980s, Coles taught dance and dance history at Yale, Cornell, Duke, and George Washington Universities. In 1991, Coles was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President George H.W. Bush. Coles was posthumously inducted into the Tap Dance Hall of Fame in 2003.

• November 12, 1994 Wilma Glodean Rudolph, hall of fame track and field athlete and the first American woman to win three Gold medals in track and field during a single Olympic Games, died. Rudolph was born June 23, 1940 in Clarksville, Tennessee. Despite a childhood filled with medical problems, she became an accomplished athlete by high school. In high school, she was a basketball star, setting state records for scoring and leading her team to the state championship. At 16, she was a member of the United States track and field team which won a Bronze medal in the 4 x 100 meter relay at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. At the 1960 Rome Olympic Games, Rudolph won Gold medals in the 100 meter race, the 200 meter race, and the 4 x 100 meter relay. That same year, Rudolph was the United Press Athlete of the Year and Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year. In 1961, she was the Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year and won the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States. She was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1974, the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1983, and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994. In 2004, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in recognition of her accomplishments. The Woman’s Sports Foundation Wilma Rudolph Courage Award is presented annually “to a female athlete that exhibits extraordinary courage in her athletic performance, demonstrates the ability to overcome adversity, makes significant contributions to sports and serves as an inspiration and role model to those who face challenges, overcomes them and strives for success at all levels.” A life size bronze statue of Rudolph is located in Clarksville. A number of biographies of Rudolph have been published, including “Wilma Rudolph: The Greatest Woman Sprinter in History” (2004) and “Wilma Rudolph: A Biography” (2006). The 1977 made for television movie “Wilma” was about her life.

• November 12, 1996 Nicodemus, Kansas, the only remaining western community established by African Americans, was designated a National Historic Site. The first settlers arrived in Nicodemus on June 18, 1877. The town was named for an individual that came to America on a slave ship and later purchased his freedom. Formerly enslaved people in the south were encouraged to settle in Nicodemus. The town was portrayed as a place for African Americans to establish black self-governance. By 1880, Nicodemus had a population of almost 500, a bank, two hotels, three churches, a newspaper, a drug store, and three general stores. However in 1888, the Union Pacific Railroad bypassed Nicodemus and established an extension six miles away and across the river. Businesses moved to the new extension and Nicodemus began to experience a long gradual decline. The decline was accelerated by the 1929 depression and the severe droughts from 1932 to 1934. By 1935, the town was reduced to a population of 76 people. Today, approximately 20 people live in Nicodemus and the only remaining business in the Nicodemus Historical Society Museum. Annually, on the last weekend of July Emancipation Day is celebrated in Nicodemus.

• November 12, 2000 Eugene Antonio Marino, the first African American archbishop in the United States, died. Marino was born May 29, 1934 in Biloxi, Mississippi. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from St. Joseph’s Seminary in 1962 and was ordained as a priest that same year. Marino earned his Master of Arts degree from Fordham University in 1967. Following his graduation, he was spiritual director at St. Joseph’s Seminary from 1968 to 1971 when he became vicar general of the Josephites. From 1974 to 1988, Marino was the auxiliary bishop for Washington, D.C. and in 1985 served as secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the first African American to hold that position. On May 5, 1988, Marino was installed as the Archbishop of Atlanta, the first African American archbishop in the United States.

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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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