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Today in Black History, 2/9/2012

• February 9, 1906 Paul Laurence Dunbar, poet, died. Dunbar was born June 27, 1872 in Dayton, Ohio. He wrote his first poem at the age of six and gave his first public recital at nine. Dunbar served as the editor of the school newspaper, class president, and president of the school literary society at his all-white high school. Dunbar’s first book of poetry, “Oak and Ivy,” was published in 1892 and his second book, “Majors and Minors” (1895), brought him national fame. During his life, Dunbar wrote 12 books of poetry, four books of short stories, five novels, and a play. He also wrote the lyrics for “In Dahomey” which, in 1903, was the first musical written and performed entirely by African Americans. In 1975, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor. A number of places are named in his honor, including schools and libraries in various cities and Dunbar Hospital in Detroit, Michigan. Several biographies have been published about Dunbar, including “Paul Lawrence Dunbar: Poet of His People” (1936) and “Oak and Ivy: A Biography of Paul Lawrence Dunbar” (1971).


• February 9, 1944 Alice Malsenior Walker, author, was born in Eatonton, Georgia. Walker earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Sarah Lawrence College in 1965 and returned to the South where she became involved with voter registration drives, campaigns for welfare rights, and children’s programs in Mississippi. Walker’s first book of poetry was published while she was a senior in college. Her first two novels were “The Third Life of Grange Copeland” (1970) and “Meridian” (1976). Her third novel and best known work, “The Color Purple,” was published in 1982 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction making Walker the first black woman to win that prize. She also was the first black woman to win the National Book Award. Walker has written several other novels, including “The Temple of My Familiar” (1989) and “Possessing the Secret of Joy” (1992). Walker has also published several non-fiction books, including “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose” (1983) and “Overcoming Speechlessness” (2010). In 2006, Walker was inducted into the California Hall of Fame.


• February 9, 1991 James Cleveland, gospel singer, arranger and composer, died. Cleveland was born December 5, 1931 in Chicago, Illinois. He began singing as a boy and in 1950 joined the Gospelaires. He subsequently worked with Albertina Walker and the Caravans and in 1954 made his first recording. In 1962, Cleveland recorded his debut album, “Peace Be Still,” and gained fame with his version of “The Love of God” which was backed by the Voices of Tabernacle from Detroit. Cleveland capitalized on his success by forming his own choir, The Southern California Community Choir, and co-founding The Gospel Music Workshop of America which has over 30,000 members in 150 chapters. Other albums by Cleveland include “I Stood on the Banks of Jordan” (1970) and “Jesus is the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” (1990). Over his career, Cleveland won four Grammy Awards.


• February 9, 2000 Beau Jack, hall of fame boxer, died. Jack was born Sidney Walker on April 1, 1921 in Waynesboro, Georgia but raised in Augusta, Georgia. At the age of 15, he began to fight in battles royal. These were fights funded by rich white men for their entertainment in which six black men fought blindfolded until only one remained standing. Jack turned professional in 1940 and won the Lightweight World Championship in December, 1942. In 1943, he lost and regained the title before losing it for good in 1944. Ring Magazine named Jack 1944 Fighter of the Year. Jack retired from boxing in 1958 with a record of 88 wins, 24 losses, and 5 draws. After retiring, Jack trained other boxers and campaigned for a pension system for boxers. In 1991, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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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.