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Today in Black History, 2/14/2012

• February 14, 1760 Richard Allen, minister, educator, and the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was born enslaved in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Allen taught himself to read and write and in 1777 bought his freedom and that of his brother. Allen joined the Methodist Society at an early age and was qualified as a preacher in 1784. In 1786, he began to preach at St. George’s United Methodist Church. However due to the church’s segregationist policies, in 1787 he and Absalom Jones led the black members out of the church to form the Free African Society, a non-denominational mutual aid society. Also in 1787, Allen purchased a lot that became the site of Bethel AME Church in 1794. That lot is now the site of Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and is the oldest parcel of real estate in the United States continuously owned by black people. In 1816, Allen founded the independent denomination of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first fully independent black denomination in the United States, and was elected its first bishop. From 1797 to his death on March 26, 1831, Allen operated a station on the Underground Railroad for individuals escaping slavery. Allen published his autobiography, “The Life Experience and Gospel Labors of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen: To Which Is Annexed the Rise and Progress of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States,” in 1800. “Richard Allen: Apostle of Freedom” was published in 1935. Allen’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.


• February 14, 1818 Frederick Douglass, abolitionist, women’s suffragist, editor, author, and statesman, was born enslaved in Tuckahoe, Maryland. Douglass taught himself to read and write and in 1838 escaped from slavery. He delivered his first abolitionist speech at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society’s annual convention in 1841. In 1845, he published his autobiography, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,” and within three years it had been reprinted nine times and there were 11,000 copies in circulation. From 1845 to 1847, Douglass lectured throughout the United Kingdom to enthusiastic crowds. During that time he became officially free when his freedom was purchased by British supporters. After returning to the United States, he began producing the North Star and other newspapers. In 1848, Douglass attended the first women’s rights convention and declared that he could not accept the right to vote himself as a black man if women could not also claim that right. During the Civil War, Douglass helped the Union Army as a recruiter for the 54th Massachusetts Regiment and after the war he served as president of the Freedman’s Savings Bank, marshal of the District of Columbia, minister-resident and consul-general to the Republic of Haiti, and charge d’affaires for the Dominican Republic. In 1877, Douglass bought Cedar Hill in Washington, D.C. which has been designated the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. Douglass died February 20, 1895. In 1965, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor and numerous streets, schools, and other buildings are named in his honor. The many biographies of Douglass include “Slave and Citizen: The Life of Frederick Douglass” (1980) and “Frederick Douglass, Autobiography” (1994). Douglass’ name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.


• February 14, 1861 William McBryar, Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Elizabethtown, North Carolina. McBryar joined the United States Army as a Buffalo Soldier and by March 7, 1890 was serving as a sergeant in Company K of the 10th Cavalry Regiment during the Indian Wars. For his actions on that date, he was awarded the medal. His citation reads, “Distinguished himself for coolness, bravery, and marksmanship while his troop was in pursuit of hostile Apache Indians.” He was awarded the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, on May 15, 1890. McBryar later became a commissioned officer and left the army as a first lieutenant. He died March 8, 1941 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


• February 14 1867 The Augusta Institute was founded to educate African American men in theology and education. The school received sponsorship from the American Baptist Home Mission Society, an organization that helped establish several historically black colleges. In 1906 Dr. John Hope became the first African American president and led the institution’s growth in enrollment and academic stature. In 1913, the institution was renamed Morehouse College in honor of Dr. Henry L. Morehouse, corresponding secretary of the American Baptist Home Mission Society. Today, the college has an enrollment of approximately 3,000 students and is one of only three traditional men’s colleges in the country. It is also one of two black colleges in the country to produce Rhodes Scholars. Alumni of Morehouse include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Spike Lee, Walter Massey, Maynard Jackson, David Satcher, and Edwin Moses.


• February 14, 1894 Mary Cardwell Dawson, musician, teacher, and founder of the Negro Opera Company, was born in Meridian, North Carolina, but raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Dawson graduated from the New England Conservatory with degrees in piano and voice in 1925 and did additional training at the Chicago Musical College. In 1927, she opened the Cardwell Dawson School of Music and over the next 14 years trained hundreds of African Americans to sing operatically. By 1939, the Cardwell Dawson Choir was nationally recognized. From 1939 to 1941, Dawson served as president of the National Association of Negro Musicians. In 1941, she launched the National Negro Opera Company which over the next 21 years performed all over the country. Dawson died March 19, 1962.


• February 14, 1912 Oliver Wendell “Ollie” Harrington, cartoonist and political satirist, was born in Valhalla, New York. Harrington started drawing cartoons at a young age and went to work for the Amsterdam News as a cartoonist and political satirist. In 1935, he created “Dark Laughter” a single panel cartoon which appeared in the African American press until 1960. In the 1940s, he worked for the NAACP and established their public relations department. While there, he published “Terror in Tennessee: The Truth about the Columbia Outrages” (1946) which was an expose of increased lynching violence in the post-World War II South. Harrington left the NAACP in 1947 and returned to cartooning, but his work brought him scrutiny from the FBI and the House Un-American Activities Committee. As a result, he moved to Paris, France in 1951 and to East Berlin, Germany where he died on November 2, 1995. Harrington published “Why I Left America and Other Essays” in 1993. “Dark Laughter: The Satiric Art of Oliver W. Harrington,” a collection of his cartoons, was published in 1993.


• February 14, 1926 Monetta J. Sleet, Jr., photographer and the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for journalism, was born in Owensboro, Kentucky. Sleet served in the United States Army from 1944 to 1946. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree cum laude from Kentucky State University in 1947 and his Master of Arts degree in journalism from New York University in 1950. Sleet went to work for Ebony Magazine in 1955 and over the next 41 years captured photos of many significant African American individuals and events, including a young Muhammad Ali, Dizzy Gillespie, Stevie Wonder, Billie Holliday, and a grieving Betty Shabazz at the funeral of Malcolm X. His photograph of Coretta Scott King at the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr. won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography. Sleet died September 30, 1996 and his collection “Special Moments in African American History: The Photographs of Monetta Sleet, Jr. 1955 – 1996” was posthumously published in 1999.


• February 14, 1936 The inaugural meeting of the National Negro Congress was convened at the Eighth Regiment Armory in Chicago, Illinois. The purpose was to build a national constituency to pressure government for labor and civil rights. Over 800 people, representing 500 organizations attended and the event was described as “the most ambitious effort for bringing together members of the Race on any single issue.” The NNC disbanded in 1947 because of Cold War suppression.


• February 14, 1946 Gregory Oliver Hines, dancer, choreographer and actor, was born in New York City. Hines started dancing at an early age and together with his brother and father eventually became known as Hines, Hines and Dad. Hines made his Broadway debut with his brother in “The Girl in Pink Tights” in 1954 and earned Tony Award nominations for “Eubie!” (1979), “Comin’ Uptown” (1980), and “Sophisticated Ladies” (1981). Hines won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for “Jelly’s Last Jam” in 1992. Hines made his movie debut in “History of the World, Part 1” (1981) and subsequently appeared “White Nights” (1985), “Tap” (1989), and “Waiting to Exhale” (1995). Hines died August 9, 2003.


• February 14, 1959 Warren “Baby” Dodds, Jazz drummer, died. Dodds was born December 24, 1898 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He gained a reputation as a top drummer at an early age, working with Louis Armstrong on Mississippi River steamboat bands. In 1921, Dodds moved to California to work with Joe “King” Oliver and then followed him to Chicago, Illinois. Dodds is regarded as one of the best jazz drummers of the pre-big band era and he revolutionized the drum kit by inventing the floor bass or “kick drum.” Additionally, Dodds is probably the first jazz drummer to record unaccompanied. A biography, “The Baby Dodds Story,” was published in 1959.

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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.