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Today in Black History, 4/10/2012

• April 10, 1926 Johnnie Tillmon Blackston, welfare reformer, was born in Scott, Arkansas. The daughter of sharecroppers, Blackston never finished high school. When things went bad in Arkansas, she left her first husband and moved to Los Angeles, California with her six children. There she worked in a laundry and received Aid to Families with Children. During that time, welfare inspectors routinely invaded the privacy of recipients, checking on their possessions and ensuring that they were not living with men. In 1963, Blackston organized a meeting of other welfare recipients to protest these invasions. Out of that meeting came a statewide organization, Aid to Needy Children Mothers Anonymous. That organization inspired the creation of the National Welfare Rights Organization with Blackston as executive director. The NWRO successfully campaigned for reforms that removed many of the system’s paternalistic trappings. After the NWRO closed in 1974, Blackston worked as a legislative aide and served on state and local committees concerned with welfare until her death on November 22, 1995.


• April 10, 1938 Joseph “King” Oliver, jazz cornet player and bandleader, died. Oliver was born December 19, 1895 in Aben, Louisiana but raised in New Orleans. At a young age, he began playing the cornet in brass and dance bands. The band that he co-led was considered New Orleans’ hottest and best in the 1910s. By 1922, Oliver had moved to Chicago where he was considered the “jazz king” of Chicago with King Oliver and the Creole Jazz Band. Oliver was a teacher and mentor to Louis Armstrong who stated that “if it had not been for Joe Oliver, jazz would not be what it is today.” During the Great Depression, Oliver lost his life savings when his Chicago bank failed and he died in poverty. Oliver was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1976 and was a charter inductee to the Gennett Records Walk of Fame in 2007. His biography, “King Oliver,” was published in 1961.


• April 10, 1947 Bunny Wailer, singer and songwriter, was born Neville O’Riley Livingston in Kingston, Jamaica. Wailer and Bob Marley were raised in the same household and they were original members of the reggae group The Wailers, along with Peter Tosh. By 1973, Wailer was operating his own recording label and composing and recording solo. Wailer has won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album three times, in 1991 for “Time Will Tell – A Tribute to Bob Marley,” in 1995 for “Crucial! Roots Classics,” and in 1997 for “Hall of Fame – A Tribute to Bob Marley’s 50th Anniversary.” Other albums by Wailer include “Liberation” (1988), “Just Be Nice” (1993), and “Cross Culture” (2009). Newsweek Magazine has named him one of the three most important musicians in world music.


• April 10, 1948 Melvin Cornell Blount, hall of fame football player, was born in Vidalia, Georgia. Blount played college football at Southern University and in 1970 earned his Bachelor of Science degree in physical education. He was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970 NFL Draft and, over his 14-season professional career, was a six-time All-Pro selection and the 1975 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Blount retired in 1983 and from that year to 1990 served as director of player relations for the National Football League. Also in 1983, he founded the Mel Blount Youth Home, a shelter and Christian mission for victims of child abuse and neglect, in his hometown. In 1989, he opened a second youth home on Mel Blount Drive in Claysville, Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh. Blount was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989. In 1991, Blount was named the Walter Camp Man of the Year.


• April 10, 1957 Alhaji Aliko Dangote, the wealthiest black person in the world, was born in Kano, Nigeria. After graduating in business studies from Al-Azahar University, Dangote started business in 1977 trading in rice, sugar, and cement. With success, he incorporated two businesses in 1981. As President and Chief Executive Officer, he has grown the Dangote Group to include 13 subsidiaries, doing business in 14 African countries, with over 12,000 employees. The subsidiary businesses include food processing, cement manufacturing, and freight. As of March, 2012, Forbes Magazine estimated Dangote’s net worth at $11.2 billion.


• April 10, 1981 Howard Thurman, author, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader, died. Thurman was born November 18, 1900 in Daytona Beach, Florida. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Morehouse College in 1923 and his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Colgate Rochester Theological Seminary in 1926. In 1929, he earned his Ph. D. from Haverford College. He was selected as dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University in 1932 and served until 1944 when he left to help establish the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, the first racially integrated, intercultural church in the United States. In 1953, he became the first Black dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University where he served until 1965. A prolific author, Thurman wrote 20 books, including “Jesus and the Disinherited” (1949) which greatly influenced Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1953, Life Magazine rated Thurman among the 12 most important religious leaders in the United States and Ebony Magazine called him one of the 50 most important figures in African American history. His autobiography, “With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman,” was published in 1981.


• April 10, 1993 Chris Hani, leader of the South African Communist Party and Chief of Staff of the armed wing of the African National Congress, was assassinated. Born Martin Thembisile Hani on June 28, 1942 in the small town of Cofimvaba, South Africa, He joined the ANC Youth League at the age of 15. He also studied modern and classical literature at the University of Fort Hare and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Rhodes University. Following his arrest under the Suppression of Communism Act, Hani went into exile in Lesotho in 1963. While in exile, he fought with rebels in Rhodesia against the White government. In 1975, Hani was elected to the ANC National Executive Committee and in 1987 he became chief of staff of the armed wing of the ANC. Following the end of the government ban on the ANC in 1990, Hani returned to South Africa and in 1991 was elected general secretary of the South African Communist Party. During this time, Hani was the most popular ANC leader after Nelson Mandela. A township and municipality in South Africa are named in his honor and in 1997 one of the largest hospitals in the world was renamed the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in his honor.

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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.