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Today in Black History, 2/6/2012

• February 6, 1872 Turner Byrd, Jr. of Williamsville, Michigan received patent number 123,328 for an improved harness rein holder. Byrd would later receive patent number 124,790 on March 19, 1872 for an improved apparatus for detaching horses from carriages, patent number 126,181 on April 30, 1872 for an improved neck-yoke for wagons, and patent number 157,370 on December 1, 1874 for an improvement in railcar couplings. Not much else is known of his life.

 

• February 6, 1898 Melvin Beaunorus Tolson, educator and poet, was born in Moberly, Missouri. Tolson earned his Bachelor of Arts degree with honors from Lincoln University in 1923 and his Master of Arts degree in English and comparative literature from Columbia University in 1940. Shortly after receiving his undergraduate degree, Tolson took a position as English and speech instructor at Wiley College. He also served as the football coach, play director, and speech and debate coach. Under his direction, the debate team maintained a ten year winning streak, including winning the national championship over the University of Sothern California which was the subject of the 2007 film “The Great Debaters.” Tolson’s first book of poetry, “Rendezvous with America,” was published in 1944. In 1947, he was appointed the Poet Laureate of Liberia and in 1953 he published “Libretto for the Republic of Liberia.” Tolson also served as Mayor of Langston, Oklahoma from 1954 to 1960. Tolson died August 29, 1966. In 1970, Langston University founded the Melvin B. Tolson Black Heritage Center to collect material of Africans, African Americans, and the African diaspora. His biography, “Melvin B. Tolson, 1898 – 1966: Plain Talk and Poetic Prophecy,” was published in 1984.

 

• February 6, 1927 Thomas S. MacIntosh, jazz trombonist, composer and arranger, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. MacIntosh played trombone in an army band and graduated from Juilliard in 1958. Between 1956 and the mid-1960s, he played with such artists as Lee Morgan, Roland Kirk, James Moody, Art Farmer, and Benny Golson. In 1963, he composed music for Dizzy Gillespie’s “Something Old, Something New.” In 1969, MacIntosh gave up jazz and moved to Los Angeles, California to pursue a career in film and television composing. Movies that he wrote music for include “The Learning Tree” (1969), “Shaft’s Big Score” (1972), and “A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich” (1978). MacIntosh was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the United States bestows on a jazz musician, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2008.

 

• February 6, 1933 Walter Edward Fauntroy, pastor, civil rights activist and former Congressman, was born in Washington, D.C. Fauntroy earned his Bachelor of Arts degree Cum Laude from Virginia University in 1955 and earned his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Yale University in 1958. In 1959, he became pastor of the New Bethel Baptist Church where he served until 2009. About the same time, he joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference where he helped to coordinate the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the 1965 Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March, and the Meredith Mississippi Freedom March in 1966. Also in 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him vice chairman of the White House Conference on Civil Rights. In 1970, Fauntroy was elected the first non-voting delegate to Congress from Washington, D.C. He was re-elected five times until he stepped down in 1990. During his time in Congress, he was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and served as chairman in 1981. In 1984, he received the Hubert H. Humphrey Humanitarian Award from the National Urban Coalition.

 

• February 6, 1945 Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley, singer and songwriter, was born in Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica. In 1963, Marley formed a group that eventually came to be called The Wailers. Their first album, “Catch a Fire,” was released in 1973 and it was followed a year later by “Burnin” which included the hit songs “Get Up, Stand Up” and “I Shot the Sheriff.” The Wailers disbanded in 1974, although Marley continued to record as Bob Marley & The Wailers. In 1975, he released the “Natty Dread” album which contained the international hit “No Woman, No Cry.” This was followed the next year by “Rastaman Vibration.” From 1976 to 1978, Marley lived in England where he recorded the albums “Exodus” (1977) and “Kaya” (1978). Other albums by Marley include “Babylon by Bus” (1978), “Survival” (1979), and “Uprising” (1980). Marley died May 11, 1981 and was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 and awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. In 1999, Time magazine named his album “Exodus” the greatest album of the 20th century. A number of books have been written about Marley, including “No Woman No Cry: My Life with Bob Marley” (2004), “Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley” (2006), and “Before the Legend: The Rise of Bob Marley” (2007).

 

• February 6, 1950 Natalie Marie Cole, singer, songwriter and actress, was born in Los Angeles, California. Cole earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1972 from the University of Massachusetts with a major in child psychology and a minor in German. She released her first album, “Inseparable,” which contained the hit singles “This Will Be” and the title track in 1975. That album won her the Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and the Grammy Award for Best New Artist. She followed that album with such albums as “Unpredictable” (1977), “Unforgettable……With Love” (1991), “Ask a Woman Who Knows” (2002), and “Still Unforgettable” (2008). Over her career, she has won seven additional Grammy Awards. Cole has also started a career in acting, appearing in several television dramas, the film “De-Lovely” (2004), and starring as herself in “Livin’ for Love: the Natalie Cole Story” (2001).

 

• February 6, 1993, Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr., hall of fame tennis player and civil rights activist, died. Ashe was born July 10, 1943 in Richmond, Virginia. In 1963, he became the first black player ever selected to the United States Davis Cup team. In 1965, Ashe won the National Collegiate Athletic Association tennis singles title. Ashe earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration from the University of California (UCLA) in the ROTC program in 1966 and spent the next two years in the Army reaching the rank of first lieutenant. In 1968, Ashe won the U.S. Amateur Championship and the U.S. Open, the only player to ever win both in the same year. Ashe turned professional in 1969 and won the Australian Open in 1970 and Wimbledon in 1975. Ashe retired in 1980 and was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985. Two months before his death, Ashe founded the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health to address issues of inadequate health care delivery. His autobiography, “Days of Grace,” was published immediately following his death. Posthumously, Ashe received many honors, including a statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond, the 1993 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President William Clinton, naming of the main stadium at the USTA National Tennis Center in his honor, a commemorative postage stamp issued by the United States Postal Service in 2005, and the ESPN Arthur Ashe Courage Award for a member of the sports world who best exhibits courage in the face of adversity. Also many schools are named in his honor, including the Arthur Ashe Academy in Southfield, Michigan. Ashe’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

 

• February 6, 2007 Willye Brown White, the first American track and field athlete to compete in five Olympics, died. White was born January 1, 1939 in Money, Mississippi. As a 16 year old high school sophomore, she won the Silver medal in the long jump at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. It was the first time that an American woman had ever won a medal in that event. She subsequently competed at the 1960, 1964, 1968, and 1972 Olympic Games, winning another Silver medal as a member of the 400-meter relay team at the 1964 Tokyo games. In all, White was a member of more than 30 United States international track and field teams. In 1960, White moved to Chicago, Illinois and in 1965 became a public health administrator at the Chicago Health Department. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in public health administration from Chicago State University in 1976. White remained active in sports, coaching athletes at the National Sports Festival in 1979 and 1981 and serving as head coach for the 1994 Olympic Sports Festival. In 1991, she founded the Willye White Foundation to help children develop self-esteem and become productive citizens. She was the first American to win the UNESCO Pierre de Coubetin International Fair Play Trophy, the world’s highest sportsmanship award. White was inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1981 and in 1999 Sports Illustrated for Women named her one of the 100 greatest women athletes of the 20th century.

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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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