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Today in Black History, 2/11/2012

• February 11, 1783 Jerena Lee, considered the first female preacher in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was born in Cape May, New Jersey. In her early 20’s, Lee was converted, sanctified, and called to preach. However, her first request for approval was denied. A few years later, Bishop Richard Allen granted her official church approval to preach. Lee preached throughout New England, Canada, and Ohio. She recounted her experiences in her autobiography “The Life and Religious Experience of Jarena Lee, a Coloured Lady” (1836), the first to be published in the United States by an African American woman. Nothing is known of her life or death after 1857.


• February 11, 1840 Jonathon Jasper Wright, lawyer and South Carolina Supreme Court judge, was born in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. After studying the law for three years and feeling himself qualified for the legal profession, Wright applied for admission to the Bar, but was refused an examination because of his race. In 1865, he again applied for admission, was found qualified, and became the first African American admitted to practice law in Pennsylvania. In 1866, Wright was appointed the legal adviser for the Freedmen’s Bureau in Beaufort, South Carolina. In 1868, he was elected to the Constitutional Convention of South Carolina and helped draft the judiciary section of the state constitution which remains in effect today. Wright was soon after elected State Senator and in 1870 was elected to the South Carolina Supreme Court. He served the court for seven years before returning to private practice. Wright died February 19, 1885. The Jonathon Jasper Wright Institute for the Study of Southern African American History, Culture and Policy is located at Claflin University and the Jonathon Jasper Wright Award is given annually to an outstanding member of the South Carolina legal community.


• February 11, 1871 Edward Christopher Williams, the first African American professional librarian in the United States and author, was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Williams earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1892 from Adelbert College of Western Reserve University. After graduating, he was appointed assistant librarian at Hatch Library at WRU and two years later was promoted to librarian, a position he held until 1909. In 1898, he earned his master’s degree in librarianship at New York State Library. In 1909, Williams was appointed principal of M Street High School (Dunbar High School) in Washington, D.C. He served there until 1916 when he was appointed head librarian of Howard University, a position he held for 13 years. He also served as professor of bibliography and instructor of German language. Williams was also proficient in French, Italian, and Spanish. Williams was a founding member of the Ohio Library Association and served as secretary in 1904. He also served as vice president of the New York Library School Association that year. He also authored and translated many articles, poems, and short stories. Williams died December 24, 1929.


• February 11, 1920 Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr., the first African American to achieve the rank of general, was born in Pensacola, Florida. James earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Tuskegee Institute in 1942. During World War II, he trained pilots, but during the Korean War he flew 101 combat missions. In 1957, James graduated from the Air Command and Staff College and over the next ten years served in a number of assignments. During the Vietnam War, James flew 78 combat missions, including “Operation Bolo” in which seven Communist planes were destroyed, the highest total kill of any mission during the war. In 1975, James was promoted to commander in chief, NORAD/ADCOM, where he had operational command of all United States and Canadian strategic aerospace defense forces. During his career, James received the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, and the Distinguished Flying Cross. James retired from the Air Force three weeks prior to his death on February 25, 1978. James’ name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan. Several biographies have been published about James, including “Black Eagle, General Daniel ‘Chappie’ James, Jr.” (1985) and “Chappie: American’s First Black Four-Star General: The Life and Times of Daniel James, Jr.” (1992).

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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.