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Today in Black History, 11/13/2012

• November 13, 1894 Albert C. Richardson of South Frankfort, Michigan received patent number 529,311 for the casket lowering device. Prior to his invention, caskets were simply buried in shallow graves or lowered with ropes into deeper graves. This required several people to work in unison to ensure that the casket was lowered evenly. Failure to do so would cause the casket to slip out the ropes and be damaged from hitting the ground. Richardson’s invention consisted of a series of pulleys and ropes which ensured uniformity in the lowering process. The same concept is used today. Richardson created several other devices. He received patent number 255,022 on March 14, 1882 for a hame fastner, patent number 446,470 on February 17, 1891 for a butter churn, patent number 620,362 on February 28, 1899 for an insect destroyer, and patent number 638,811 on December 12, 1899 for an improvement in the design of the bottle. Not much else is known of Richardson’s life.

• November 13, 1911 John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil, Negro League baseball player and manager and the first African American to coach in the major leagues, was born in Carrabelle, Florida. In 1937, O’Neil signed a contract with the Memphis Red Sox in the Negro American 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. O’Neil was a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committee from 1981 to 2000 and played an important role in the induction of six Negro League players. In 1990, O’Neil led the effort to establish the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri and served as its honorary board chairman until his death on October 6, 2006. 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 made O’Neil the first recipient. O’Neil’s autobiography, “I Was Right on Time: My Journey from Negro Leagues to the Majors,” was published in 1997.

• November 13, 1920 George Elliott Olden, graphic designer and the first African American to design a United States postage stamp, was born in Birmingham, Alabama, but raised in Washington, D.C. Olden excelled at art from a young age and while still in high school drew cartoons and served as art director for a Black biweekly magazine. In 1945, Olden joined the CBS television network as art director. At the same time, he was invited to the conference that led to the establishment of the United Nations where he was selected to serve as graphic designer to the International Secretariat. While at CBS, Olden was the first artist to design news graphics and he supervised the vote tallying graphics of the first live presidential election coverage in 1952. He was also in charge of graphics for the most popular CBS television shows, including “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “Lassie,” “Face the Nation,” and “Gunsmoke.” In 1956, Olden won the New York Art Directors Club medal. In 1960, Olden left CBS to join BBDO advertising agency and in 1963 he joined McCann-Erickson as a vice president and member of the Professional Advisory Council. Also in 1963, he was commissioned by the U.S. Postal Service to design a postage stamp commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation, making him the first Black person to design a U.S. stamp. The stamp went on sale August 19, 1963. In 1964, Olden was one of seven African Americans included at a dinner given by U.S. Representative to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson honoring “Negroes prominent in the economic world.” In 1967, Olden designed another U.S. postage stamp commemorating the Voice of America. Olden died January 25, 1975. In 2007, Olden was posthumously awarded the AIGA Medal which is awarded to individuals in recognition of their exceptional achievements, services or other contributions to the field of design and visual communication.

• November 13, 1930 Benny Andrews, painter, printmaker, and educator, was born in Plainview, Georgia. After serving in the United States Air Force as a staff sergeant from 1950 to 1954, Andrews earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1958. He 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 died November 10, 2006 and his 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 13, 1940 The United States Supreme Court ruled in Hansberry v. Lee that Whites could not bar African Americans from White neighborhoods, but did not rule that restrictive covenants based on race were void. It ruled for Hansberry on a legal technicality that Lee did not represent the entire class because a number of the homeowners (approximately 46%) disagreed with the covenant. Restrictive covenants based on race were completely outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court on May 3, 1948 in the case of Shelley v. Kraemer.

• November 13, 1942 Leonard Roy Harmon, the first African American to have a Navy ship named in his honor, died. Harmon was born January 21, 1917 in Cuero, Texas. He enlisted in the United States Navy in June, 1939 and in October of that year was assigned to the USS San Francisco. By 1942, Harmon had advanced to mess attendant first class. On November 12, 1942, the Japanese began the battle of Guadalcanal by crashing a plane into the USS San Francisco, killing or injuring 50 men. The next day they raked the USS San Francisco with gunfire, killing nearly every officer on the bridge. Disregarding his own safety, Harmon helped to evacuate the wounded. He was killed while shielding a wounded shipmate from gunfire with his own body. For “extraordinary heroism,” he was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the highest medal that can be awarded by the U.S. Navy. On July 25, 1943, the USS Harmon, a destroyer escort named in his honor, was launched. The bachelor enlisted quarters at the United States Naval Air Station in North Island, California was named Harmon Hall in his honor in 1975.

• November 13, 1955 Whoopi Goldberg, actress, comedienne and activist, was born Caryn Elaine Johnson in New York City. In 1983, Goldberg created “The Spook Show,” a one woman show which ran on Broadway for 156 sold out performances and won her the 1985 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One Person Show. In 1985, she made her film debut in the “Color Purple” which resulted in an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. In 1990, she played a psychic in the film “Ghost” and became the first Black female to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in nearly 50 years. Goldberg has appeared in over 150 films, including “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (1986), “Sister Act” (1992), “Made in America” (1993), “Kingdom Come” (2001), and “For Colored Girls” (2010). In 1994, Goldberg became the first African American female to host the Academy Awards which she again hosted in 1996, 1999 and 2002. Goldberg is one of only a few performers to have won an Academy Award, a Grammy Award, a Tony Award, and an Emmy Award. In 1999, she received the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Vanguard Award for her work in supporting the gay and lesbian community and in 2001 she received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. From 1998 to 2004, she was co-producer of the “Hollywood Squares” television show. In September, 2007, Goldberg became the co-host of the television show “The View” which continues to today. Several biographies have been written about Goldberg, including “Whoopi Goldberg: From Street to Stardom” (1993) and “Whoopi Goldberg: Comedian and Movie Star” (1999).

• November 13, 1969 Ayaan Hirsi Ali, feminist activist and writer, was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, but grew up in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Kenya. In 1992, Ali obtained political asylum in the Netherlands. She earned her Master of Arts degree in political science from Leiden University in 2000 and in 2003 was elected to the Dutch House of Representatives where she served until 2006. While in parliament, Ali worked on furthering the integration of non-Western immigrants into Dutch society and defending the rights of women in Dutch Muslim communities. In 2004, she wrote the script and provided the voice-over for “Submission” a film which criticized the treatment of women in Islamic society. The airing of the film resulted in the death of the producer and death threats against Ali. After resigning from parliament, Ali moved to the United States and is currently a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Ali has published a collection of essays, “The Caged Virgin” (2006), an autobiography, “Infidel” (2007), and a follow-up memoir to her autobiography, “Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey through the Clash of Civilizations” (2010). In 2005, she was named by Time magazine one of the 100 most influential people in the world. In 2007, Ali founded the AHA Foundation “to protect and defend the rights of women and girls in the West from oppression justified by religion or culture.

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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.