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Today in Black History, 4/7/2012

• April 7, 1803 Francois-Dominique Toussaint L’Ouverture, Haitian patriot and revolutionary leader, died. Toussaint was born enslaved on May 20, 1743 in Saint-Domingue, Hispaniola (now Haiti). At an early age, Toussaint’s master recognized his superior intelligence and taught him French, gave him duties which allowed him to educate himself, and freed him at age 33. Beginning in 1791, Toussaint led enslaved blacks in a long struggle for independence over French colonizers. By 1796, Toussaint was the dominant figure in Haiti and he tried to rebuild the collapsed economy and reestablish commercial contacts with the United States and Britain. However, in 1802 he was kidnapped by the French and died in a French prison. Toussaint figures importantly in the early 19th century writings of several authors as a symbol and exemplar of resistance to slavery and as an example of the potential of the black race. He also inspired a number of 20th century works, including Leslie Pinckey Hill’s “Toussaint L’Ouverture: A Dramatic History” (1928) and Aime Cesaire’s “Toussaint Louverture” (1960). Toussaint’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.


• April 7, 1840 Alexander Kelly, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Saltsburg, Pennsylvania. Kelly enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War and by September 29, 1864 was serving as a first sergeant in Company F of the 6th United States Colored Infantry Regiment at the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm in Virginia. His citation reads, “Gallantly seized the colors, which had fallen near the enemy’s lines of abates, raised them and rallied the men at a time of confusion and in a place of the greatest danger.” For his actions, Kelly was awarded the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, on April 6, 1865. He was honorably discharged from the army in September, 1865 and for some time served as the night watchman at the Pittsburgh police stables. Not much else is known of Kelly’s life except that he died June 19, 1907.


• April 7, 1842 Allen Allensworth, minister, educator, and town founder, was born enslaved in Louisville, Kentucky. Allensworth escaped slavery by joining the Union Army during the Civil War. In 1871, he was ordained a Baptist minister and led several churches in Kentucky. In 1880 and 1884, he was the only black delegate from Kentucky to the Republican National Conventions. In 1886, Allensworth was appointed military chaplain to a unit of Buffalo Soldiers and by the time that he retired in 1906 he had reached the rank of lieutenant colonel, the first African American to achieve that rank. After leaving military service, Allensworth moved to Los Angeles, California. In 1908, he founded the town of Allensworth in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley as an all-black community. It is the only California town founded, financed, and governed by African Americans. By 1914, the town was reported to be 900 acres of deeded land worth more than $112,500. Allensworth died September 14, 1914 and over the next couple of decades the town became a ghost town. Parts of the town have been preserved as the Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park. Biographies of Allensworth include “Battles and Victories of Allen Allensworth” (1914) and “Out of Darkness: The Story of Allen Allensworth” (1998).


• April 7, 1867 Johnson C. Smith University was established as Biddle Memorial Institute for men in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1876, the name was changed to Biddle University and in 1923 the institution was renamed Johnson C. Smith University. The university became fully coeducational in 1942 and in 1944 it became a founding member of the United Negro College Fund. Today, there are approximately 1,500 undergraduate students at the university. Notable alumni include Eva M. Clayton, Dr. Henry Hill, Dr. Albert E. Manley, and Sandra L. Townes. Biddle Memorial Hall is on the National Register of Historic Places.


• April 7, 1872 William Monroe Trotter, newspaper publisher and political activist, was born in Chillicothe, Ohio. Trotter earned his bachelor’s degree magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1895 and was the first African American man to be awarded a Phi Beta Kappa key. In 1896, he earned his Master of Arts degree from Harvard University. In 1901, he co-founded the Boston Guardian and in 1905 was a charter member of the Niagara Movement. Trotter led protests against segregation in the federal government and picketed the stage production of “Birth of a Nation,” ultimately forcing it to close. Trotter died April 7, 1934 and the William Monroe Trotter Elementary School in Dorchester, Massachusetts and the William Monroe Trotter Institute for The Study of Black Culture at the University of Massachusetts are named in his honor. Trotter’s biography, “The Guardian of Boston,” was published in 1971.


• April 7, 1915 Billie Holiday, jazz singer and songwriter known as “Lady Day,” was born Elinore Harris in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By 1929, Holiday was performing in clubs around Harlem, New York. In 1933, Holiday made her recording debut with “Your Mother’s Son-In-Law” and “Riffin’ the Scotch.” By 1938, she was performing as a vocalist with the big band of Artie Shaw, making her one of the first black women to work with a white orchestra. Amongst the songs that Holiday recorded, “God Bless the Child” (1941), “Embraceable You” (1944), “Lover Man (Oh, Where Can You Be)” (1945), “Crazy He Calls Me” (1949), and “Lady in Satin” (1958) have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as recordings of “qualitative or historical significance.” “Strange Fruit” (1939) was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and is listed on the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.” Holiday died July 17, 1959 with $0.70 in the bank and $750 on her person. In 1972, the film “Lady Sings the Blues,” which was loosely based on her autobiography of the same title published in 1956, was released. Holiday was posthumously given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987 and in 1994 the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor. She was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1961 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.


• April 7, 1938 Frederick Dwayne “Freddie” Hubbard, jazz trumpeter, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. Hubbard began playing the trumpet in his school band at the Jordan Conservatory and in 1958 moved to New York City and began playing with some of the best jazz players of the era. In 1960, he made his recording debut as a leader with “Open Sesame” and in 1961 he made one of his most famous recordings, “Ready for Freddie.” From 1961 to 1966, Hubbard played with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Hubbard achieved his greatest success in the 1970s with recordings that included “Red Clay” (1970), “First Light” (1971), which won the 1972 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Performance - Group, and “Sky Dive” (1973). In 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts designated Hubbard a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the United States bestows on a jazz musician. Hubbard died December 29, 2008 and was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 2009.


• April 7, 1942 Rodney Maxwell Davis, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Macon, Georgia. Davis enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1961 and by 1966 had been promoted to sergeant. By September 6, 1967, he was serving as a platoon guide with Company B, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division in Quang Nam Province of the Republic of Vietnam. His actions on that date earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. Davis’ citation partially reads, “Elements of the Second Platoon were pinned down by a numerically superior force of attacking North Vietnamese Army Regulars. Remnants of the platoon were located in a trench line where Sergeant Davis was directing the fire of his men in an attempt to repel the enemy attack. Disregarding the enemy hand grenades and high volume of small arms and mortar fire, Sergeant Davis moved from man to man shouting words of encouragement to each of them firing and throwing hand grenades at the onrushing enemy. When an enemy grenade landed in the trench in the midst of his men, Sergeant Davis, realizing the gravity of the situation, and in a final valiant act of complete self-sacrifice, instantly threw himself upon the grenade, absorbing with his own body the full and terrific force of the explosion. Through his extraordinary initiative and inspiring valor in the face of almost certain death, Sergeant Davis saved his comrades from injury and possible loss of life, enabled his platoon to hold its vital position.” The medal was presented to Davis’ family by Vice President Spiro T. Agnew on March 26, 1969. In May, 1987, the USS Rodney M. Davis was commissioned in his honor.


• April 7, 1945 Willy F. James, Jr., Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was killed in action. James was born March 18, 1920 in Kansas City, Missouri. He enlisted in the United States Army in 1942 and by April 7, 1945 was an infantry scout assigned to Company G, 413th Infantry Regiment, 104th Infantry Division near Lippoldsberg, Germany. His actions on that day earned him the medal. His citation partially reads, “As lead scout during a maneuver, Pvt. James was the first to draw enemy fire. He was pinned down for over an hour, during which time he observed enemy positions in detail. Returning to his platoon, he assisted in working out a new plan of maneuver. He then led a squad in the assault, accurately designating targets as he advanced, until he was killed by enemy machine gun fire while going to the aid of his fatally wounded platoon leader.” The Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, was presented to his widow on January 13, 1997 by President William Cllinton. In 2001, the 7th U.S. Army Reserve Command Reserve Center in Bamberg, Germany was dedicated to James’ memory.


• April 7, 1948 Clarence Earl “Arnie” Robinson, Jr., hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in San Diego, California. Robinson attended San Diego State University where he was the 1970 NCAA Men’s Outdoor Track and Field Champion in the long jump. He won the Bronze medal at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games in the long jump and the Gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games. Robinson has served as head track coach and taught physical education at Mesa College. He was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2000.


• April 7, 1954 Anthony Drew Dorsett, hall of fame football player, was born in Rochester, Pennsylvania. Dorsett played college football at the University of Pittsburg where he was a four-time All-American. In 1976, he led the team to a national title and was awarded the Heisman Trophy and named the College Player of the Year. He was the first player to gain more than 1,000 yards each of his four college seasons and the first to accumulate more than 6,000 yards during his college career. Dorsett was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1977 NFL draft and over his 12 season professional career was a four-time Pro Bowl selection. Dorsett retired from football in 1988 and in 1994 was inducted into both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The football stadium at his high school and a street near the University of Pittsburgh stadium are named in his honor. Dorsett is currently an entrepreneur and product marketer.


• April 7, 1970 Garfield McConnell Langhorn was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, for his actions during the Vietnam War. President Richard M. Nixon presented the medal to Langhorn’s mother. Langhorn was born September 10, 1948 in Cumberland, Virginia. He joined the United States Army in 1968 and by January 15, 1969 was serving as a private first class in Troop C, 7th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Aviation Brigade. On that date, his actions earned him the medal. His citation partially reads, “Pfc. Langhorn’s platoon was inserted into a landing zone to rescue 2 pilots of a Cobra helicopter shot down by enemy fire on a heavily timbered slope. He provided radio coordination with the command and control aircraft overhead while the troops hacked their way through dense undergrowth to the wreckage, where both aviators were found dead. As the men were taking the bodies to a pickup site, they suddenly came under intense fire from North Vietnamese soldiers in camouflaged bunkers to the front and right flank, and within minutes they were surrounded. Pfc. Langhorn immediately radioed for help from the orbiting gunships, which began to place minigun and rocket fire on the aggressors. He then lay between the platoon leader and another man, operating the radio and providing covering fire for the wounded that had moved to the center of the small perimeter. Darkness soon fell, making it impossible for the gunships to give accurate support, and the aggressors began to probe the perimeter. An enemy grenade landed in front of Pfc. Langhorn and a few feet from personnel who had become casualties. Choosing to protect these wounded, he unhesitatingly threw himself on the grenade, scooped it beneath his body and absorbed the blast. By sacrificing himself, he saved the lives of his comrades.”

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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.