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Today in Black History, 3/15/2012

• March 15, 1810 David Ruggles, entrepreneur and anti-slavery activist, was born in Norwich, Connecticut. He moved to New York City and ran a grocery store, opened the first African American bookstore in the United States, and edited a newspaper called The Mirror. Ruggles also published a pamphlet called The Extinguisher and contributed to abolitionist newspapers. He was active in the New York Committee of Vigilance and the Underground Railroad. He actively confronted bounty hunters who made a living by capturing runaways and educated enslaved workers in New York on the state law declaring that enslaved workers be emancipated after nine months of residence. As a result of his activism, Ruggles was assaulted and his business was destroyed by arson. Ruggles died December 16 1849 and his biography, “David Ruggles: A Radical Black Abolitionist and the Underground Railroad in New York City,” was published in 2010. The David Ruggles Center for Early Florence History and Underground Railroad Studies is located in Florence Massachusetts.

 

• March 15, 1825 Harriet E. “Hattie” Adams Wilson, considered the first African-American female novelist, was born in Milford, New Hampshire. Wilson’s father died and her mother abandoned her when she was young. As an orphan, she was made an indentured servant. After the end of her indenture, Wilson worked as a house servant and seamstress. On August 18, 1859, Wilson copyrighted her novel “Our Nig: or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black” and it was published on September 5, 1859. The book is generally considered an autobiographical novel and it highlighted the brand of racial oppression practiced in New England. After publishing the novel, Wilson lectured throughout New England, delivering lectures on labor reform and children’s education. Wilson died June 28, 1900. In 1982, “Our Nig” received national attention when it was rediscovered by Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Wilson’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

 

• March 15, 1912 Sam John “Lightnin” Hopkins, country blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter, was born in Centreville, Texas. Hopkins developed a deep appreciation of the blues at the age of eight, but did not make his first recording until 1946. By 1960, Hopkins had cemented his reputation as one of the most compelling blues performers and he made his debut at Carnegie Hall in October of that year. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Hopkins released one or more albums a year and toured, playing at major folk festivals in the United States and internationally. His recordings include “Last Night Blues” (1960), “Lightnin’ Strikes” (1965), “My Life in the Blues” (1967), and “Freeform Patterns” (1968). It is estimated that Hopkins recorded between 800 and 1000 songs during his career and recorded more albums than any other bluesman. His informal lifestyle was captured in the 1967 documentary “The Blues According to Lightnin’ Hopkins.” Hopkins died January 30, 1982 and there is a statute of him in Crockett, Texas. A state historical marker was dedicated to him in 2010 in Houston, Texas. Biographies of Hopkins include “Lightnin’ Hopkins: Blues Guitar Legend” (1995), “Deep Down Hard Blues: Tribute to Lightnin’” (1995), and “Lightnin’ Hopkins: His Life and Blues” (2010).

 

• March 15, 1929 Cecil Percival Taylor, jazz pianist and poet, was born in New York City. Taylor began playing piano at the age of six and studied at the New York College of Music and New England Conservatory. He formed his own band and released his first recording, “Jazz Advance,” in 1956. In 1964, Taylor co-founded the Jazz Composers Guild to enhance the working possibilities of avant-garde jazz musicians. He began to perform solo concerts in the early 1970s, recording “Incident” (1973), “Silent Tongues” (1974), “For Olim” (1987), and “The Tree of Life” (1998). Taylor was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1973, inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1975, and awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1991. In 1990, he was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the United States bestows on a jazz musician, by the National Endowment for the Arts. Taylor has recorded sparingly in the 200s, including “Algonquin” and “Conquistador!” in 2004.

 

• March 15, 1933 The Los Angeles Sentinel was founded by Colonel Leon H. Washington. His wife, Ruth Washington, was the publisher until her death in 1990. In 2004, the paper was bought by Danny J. Bakewell, a successful African American businessman and philanthropist. Over its existence the Sentinel has been awarded hundreds of professional and community service awards and it’s readership of 125,000 makes it the largest subscriber paid African American owned newspaper on the West Coast.

 

• March 15, 1959 Lester Willis Young, jazz tenor saxophonist and clarinetist, died. Young was born August 27, 1909 in Woodville, Mississippi. As a teenager, he played in his family’s band on the vaudeville and carnival circuit. He left the family band in 1927 because he refused to play in the South where Jim Crow laws were in effect. In 1933, Young settled in Kansas City, Kansas where he rose to prominence playing in the Count Basie Orchestra. He left the Basie band in 1940 and subsequently led a number of small groups. In 1944, Young was inducted into the United States Army where, unlike many white musicians who were placed in army bands, he was placed in the regular army and not allowed to play his saxophone. After the discovery of alcohol and marijuana in his possessions and the fact that he was married to a white woman, Young was dishonorably discharged from the army. His career after World War II was far more prolific and lucrative than in prior years in terms of records made, live performances, and annual income. In December, 1957, he appeared in the CBS television production “The Sound of Jazz.” Young was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1959. His playing style influenced many other tenor saxophonists including Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, and Gerry Mulligan. There are a number of biographies of Young, including “Lester Young Profession: President” (1987) and “You Just Fight for Your Life: The Story of Lester Young” (1990).

 

• March 15, 1967 Ruppert Leon Sargent, Medal of Honor recipient, died. Sargent was born January 6, 1938 in Hampton, Virginia. He joined the United States Army and was serving as a first lieutenant in Company B, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division during the Vietnam War. On March 15, 1967, while in Hau Nghia Province of the Republic of Vietnam, his actions earned him the medal. His citation partially reads, “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. While leading a platoon of Company B, 1st Lt. Sargent was investigating a reported Viet Cong meeting house and weapons cache……..As they approached another Viet Cong emerged and threw 2 hand grenades that landed in the midst of the group. 1st Lt. Sargent fired 3 shots at the enemy then turned and unhesitatingly threw himself over the 2 grenades. He was mortally wounded, and his 2 companions were lightly wounded when the grenades exploded. By his courageous and selfless act of exceptional heroism, he saved the lives of the platoon sergeant and forward observer and prevented the injury or death of several other nearby comrades.” For this, he was posthumously awarded the medal, America’s highest military decoration.

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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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