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Today in Black History, 6/1/2012

• June 1, 1875 Alexander P. Ashbourne of Oakland, California received patent number 163,962 for a process for refining coconut oil for domestic use His process allowed the coconut to retain its flavor for years without depreciation. Additionally, Ashbourne received patent number 170,460 for an improved biscuit cutter on November 30, 1875, patent number 194,287 for a process for treating coconut on August 21, 1877, and patent number 230,518 for a process for preparing coconut on July 27, 1880. Not much else is known of Ashbourne’s life except that he was a successful dry goods grocer.

 

• June 1, 1919 Caroline Still Wiley Anderson, physician and educator, died. Anderson was born November 1, 1848 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1868, she graduated from Oberlin College, where she was the only black woman in her class, and returned to Philadelphia to teach. She later taught music, drawing, and elocution at Howard University. Anderson later decided to become a medical doctor and in 1878 graduated from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, becoming the state’s first black female doctor. In addition to her private practice, Anderson ran the Berean Dispensary and the Berean Cottage which served poor women and children. She also helped found the Berean Manual Training and Industrial School and acted as its assistant principal and taught elocution, physiology, and hygiene. In the early 1900s, Anderson helped to establish Philadelphia’s first black Young Women’s Christian Association. She was also treasurer for the Women’s Medical College Alumnae Association, president of the Berean Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and on the board of the Home for Aged and Infirm Colored People of Philadelphia.

 

• June 1, 1920 Marie Roach Knight, gospel and R&B singer, was born in Sanford, Florida. Knight first toured in 1939 with evangelist Frances Robinson. In 1946, she made her first recordings as a member of The Sunset Four. That same year, she met Sister Rosetta Tharpe and they performed and recorded together until 1951, recording such hits as “Up Above My Head” (1948) and “Gospel Train” (1949). Knight went solo in 1951 and in 1956 recorded the album “Songs of the Gospel.” In the late 1950s, Knight began to record secular music with her biggest hit being “Cry Me a River” in 1965. She also toured with Brook Benton, The Drifters, and Clyde McPhatter. In the mid-1970s, she returned to gospel music and recorded “Marie Knight: Today” (1975) and “Let Us Get Together” (2007). Knight died August 30, 2009.

 

• June 1, 1935 Rev. Ike, minister and evangelist, was born Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II in Ridgeland, South Carolina. Rev. Ike began his career as a teenage preacher and earned his bachelor’s degree in theology from American Bible College in 1956. After serving in the United States Air Force as a chaplain, he founded the United Church of Jesus Christ for All People in Beaufort, South Carolina, the United Christian Evangelistic Association in Boston, Massachusetts, and the Christ Community United Church in New York City. Rev. Ike preached the blessings of material prosperity and at its peak in the mid-1970s, his television and radio ministry reached approximately 2.5 million people across the United States. A magazine he founded, “Action!,” reached more than a million readers. His slogan was “You can’t lose with the stuff I use.” Rev. Ike died July 28, 2009.

 

• June 1, 1937 Morgan Porterfield Freeman, Jr., actor and film director, was born in Memphis, Tennessee. After serving in the United States Air Force from 1955 to 1959, Freeman made his Off-Broadway debut in 1967 in “The Nigger Lover.” In 1968, he made his Broadway debut in “Hello, Dolly!” Freeman’s first credited film role was in “Who Says I Can’t Ride a Rainbow” in 1971. Beginning with “Street Smart” (1987), Freeman has received Academy Award nominations for his roles in “Driving Miss Daisy” (1989), “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994), and “Invictus” (2009). He won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in “Million Dollar Baby” (2004). Other films in which he has appeared include “Glory” (1988), “Unforgiven” (1992), “Se7en” (1995), “Deep Impact” (1998), and “The Bucket List” (2007). In 1993, he directed “Bopha!,” a feature film set in South Africa. In January, 2010, Freeman replaced Walter Cronkite as the voiceover introduction to the “CBS Evening News.”

 

• June 1, 1939 Cleavon Jake Little, film and stage actor, was born in Chickasha, Oklahoma. Little earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in dramatic arts from San Diego State University and completed his graduate studies at Juilliard. Little made his professional debut in 1967 in the Off-Broadway production of “MacBird.” The following year, Little made his first film and television appearances. In 1969, Little made his Broadway debut in “Jimmy Shine” and in 1971 he won the Tony Award and the Drama Desk Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance in “Purlie.” Other Broadway appearances include “All Over Town” (1975), “The Poison Tree” (1976), and “I’m Not Rappaport” (1988). Film roles include “Vanishing Point” (1971), “Blazing Saddles” (1974), “Once Bitten” (1985), and “Fletch Lives” (1989). In 1989, Little won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor for an appearance on the television series “Dear John.” In 1991, Little also appeared in the television docu-drama, “Separate But Equal.” Little died October 22, 1992.

 

• June 1, 1948 John Lee Curtis “Sonny Boy” Williamson, blues harmonica player, was killed. Williamson was born March 30, 1914 near Jackson, Tennessee. Williamson’s first recording, “Good Morning, School Girl,” was a major hit on the “race record” market in 1937 and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1990. Other well-known recordings by Williamson include “Check Up on My Baby” (1944), “Stop Breaking Down” (1945), and “Shake the Boogie” (1947). Williamson was the most widely heard and influential blues harmonica player of his generation and was often referred to as “the father of modern blues harp.” He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980. A Tennessee historical marker in Jackson denotes his gravesite.

 

• June 1, 1948 Robert Henry Jenkins, Jr., Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Interlachen, Florida. Jenkins enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1968 and within two months was promoted to private first class. On March 5, 1969, while serving as a marine gunner with Company C, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division in the Republic of Vietnam, Jenkins’ actions earned him the medal. His citation partially reads, “the Marines were assaulted by a North Vietnamese Army platoon employing mortar, automatic weapons, and hand grenades. Reacting instantly, pfc. Jenkins and another Marine quickly moved into a two-man fighting emplacement, and as they boldly delivered accurate machine gun fire against the enemy, a North Vietnamese soldier threw a hand grenade into the friendly emplacement. Fully realizing the inevitable results of his action, pfc. Jenkins quickly seized his comrade, and pushing the man to the ground, he leaped on top of the Marine to shield him from the explosion. Absorbing the full impact of the detonation, pfc. Jenkins was seriously injured and subsequently succumbed to his wounds.” The Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, was presented to Jenkins’ family on April 20, 1970 by Vice President Spiro Agnew.

 

• June 1, 1966 The White House Conference on Civil Rights, titled “To Fulfill These Rights,” was convened. President Lyndon Johnson convened the two day conference to address discrimination against African Americans. The four areas covered were housing, economic security, education, and the administration of justice. There were more than 2,400 participants representing most of the major civil rights organizations. Out of the conference came a hundred-page report that called for legislation to ban racial discrimination in housing and the administration of criminal justice.

 

• June 1, 1991 Davis Eli “David” Ruffin, former lead singer of The Temptations, died. Ruffin was born January 18, 1941 in Whynot, Mississippi. He began singing as a young child in a family gospel group. In 1957, he moved to Detroit, Michigan and recorded his first single, “You and I” (1958). Other early recordings include “I’m In Love” (1961) and “Knock You Out with Love” (1962). In 1964, he joined The Temptations and over the four years he was with the group sang lead on a number of hits, including, “My Girl” (1964), “It’s Growing” (1965), “Beauty is Only Skin Deep” (1966), “I Wish It Would Rain” (1967), and “I Could Never Love Another” (1968). In 1968, he left the group and returned to a solo career. His first solo recording was “My Whole World Ended” (1969). Other solo recordings include “I’m So Glad I Feel for You” (1970), “Common Man” (1973), and “Walk Away From Love” (1975). In 1989, Ruffin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with The Temptations.

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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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