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Today in Black History 12/30/2010

• December 30, 1842 Josiah Thomas Walls, Congressman, was born enslaved in Winchester, Virginia. During the Civil War, Walls was forced to join the Confederate Army and was captured by the Union Army in 1862. He then joined the United States Colored Troops in 1863 and rose to the rank of corporal. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives from Florida in 1871 but was denied his seat. In 1873, he was elected again and served his term. He was then elected for a third term but again denied his seat. After that he returned to Florida where he farmed until his death on May 15, 1905.

• December 30, 1928 Elias Otha Bates (Bo Diddley), vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, was born in McComb, Mississippi. In 1934, his family moved to Chicago where in the early 1940s Diddley began to perform. In 1954, he recorded “Bo Diddley” which became a number one R&B hit in 1955. He continued to have hits during the late 1950s and the early 1960s, including “Pretty Thing” (1956), “Say Man” (1959), and “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover” (1962). Between 1958 and 1963, he released eleven full-length albums. In 1987, Diddley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1998 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, and in 1999 his song “Bo Diddley” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as a recording of “lasting qualitative or historical significance.” Bo Diddley died June 2, 2008.

• December 30, 1929 Sigma Gamma Rho was founded as a national collegiate sorority on the campus of Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. Their mission is to enhance the quality of life within the community. Public service, leadership development, and education of youth are the hallmarks of their programs and activities and they address concerns that impact society educationally, civically, and economically. Today, they have over 90,000 members in more than 500 undergraduate and alumni chapters. Notable members include Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Alice Childress, Marilyn McCoo, Kelly Price, and Victoria Rowell.

• December 30, 1935 Albert-Bernard “Omar” Bongo, second president of the African nation of Gabon, was born in southeastern Gabon. After Gabon’s independence in 1960, Bongo began his political career and was promoted to key positions before being elevated to Vice President in 1966. Bongo succeeded Leon M’ba as President upon his death in 1967 and served until his own death on June 8, 2009. After Cuban President Fidel Castro stepped down in February, 2008, Bongo became the world’s longest serving non-monarch ruler.

• December 30, 1941 Melvin Lacy Renfro, hall of fame football defensive back, was born in Houston, Texas. Renfro attended the University of Oregon where he was a track star and All-American halfback and defensive back. He was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1964 NFL Draft and over his 14 year career was a five-time All-Pro selection and ten-time Pro Bowl selection. Since his 1977 retirement, Renfro has committed himself to building up the inner-city community of Portland, Oregon through the Mel Renfro Foundation. In 1986, Renfro was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and in 1996 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

• December 30, 1975 Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods, the highest paid athlete in the world, was born in Cypress, California. Woods was a prodigy who began to play golf at the age of two, shot a 48 over nine holes at the age of three, and at the age of five appeared in Golf Digest. At the age of 15, Woods became the youngest ever United States Junior Amateur Champion and in 1991 was named Golf Digest Junior Amateur Player of the Year. Woods turned professional in August, 1996 and since then has won 71 PGA tour events, including 14 major golf championships, he has been awarded the PGA Player of the Year a record ten times, and he has led the prize money list a record nine times. He has also been named Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year a record tying four times and is the only person to be named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year more than once. In 2008, he was the highest earning professional athlete with estimated earnings of $110 million from prize winnings and endorsements. He has also been credited with increasing the popularity of golf amongst the general public and increasing overall prize money. In December, 2009 he was named Athlete of the Decade by the Associated Press. It is estimated that Woods earned $90.5 million from winnings and endorsements in 2010.

• December 30, 2003 Samuel Milton Nabrit, biologist, educator and college president, died. Nabrit was born February 21, 1905 in Macon, Georgia. Nabrit earned his Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Morehouse College in 1925 and his Master of Science degree and Ph. D. from Brown University in 1928 and 1932, respectively. He was the first African American to be awarded a Ph. D. by Brown. Nabrit taught zoology at Morehouse from 1925 to 1931 and in 1932 became chairman of the biology department at Atlanta University. He became the dean of the graduate school of arts and sciences at Atlanta in 1947 and served in that position until 1955, when he became the second president of Texas Southern University. In his eleven years at Texas Southern, Nabrit more than doubled the enrollment of black students and encouraged their participation in the Civil Rights Movement. He declared that no student would be expelled for civil rights activities while he was president of the university. From 1956 to 1962, Nabrit served on President Eisenhower’s National Science Board and in 1966 President Lyndon Johnson appointed him to the Atomic Energy Commission, the first African American on that commission. In 1967, Nabrit founded and became director of the Southern Fellowship Fund, established to support and mentor black students studying for doctorates. He worked for the fund until his retirement in 1981. Between 1967 and 1972, Nabrit served as Brown University’s first black trustee and in 1985 the university established the Nabrit Fellowship to assist graduate students from minority groups.
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Gregory Lucas-Myers is a 2010 University of Michigan - Ann Arbor graduate, possessing a B.A. in English with a focus in creative writing.