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Today in Black History, 6/20/2012

• June 20, 1858 Charles Waddell Chesnutt, author and political activist, was born in Cleveland, Ohio. By the age of 13, Chesnutt was a pupil/teacher at the Howard School in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He eventually became assistant principal at the normal school now known as Fayetteville State University. In 1887, Chesnutt passed the Ohio bar exam and established a successful legal stenography business in Cleveland. His first short story, “The Goophered Grapevine,” was published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1887 and his first book, “The Conjure Woman,” was published in 1899. Other novels by Chesnutt include “The House Behind the Cedars” (1900) and “The Marrow of Tradition” (1901). In 1906, his play “Mrs. Darcy’s Daughter” was produced. Chesnutt served on the general committee of the NAACP and was one of the early 20th century’s most prominent activists and commentators. In 1917, he protested and successfully shutdown showings in Ohio of the film “Birth of a Nation.” In 1928, Chesnutt was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. More than 50 years before Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Chesnutt concluded one of his speeches, “Looking down the vista of time I see an epoch in our nation’s history, not in my time or yours, but in not the distant future, when there shall be in the United States but one people, molded by the same culture, swayed by the same patriotic ideals, holding their citizenship in such high esteem that for another to share it is of itself to entitle him to fraternal regard; when men will be esteemed and honored for their character and talents.” Chesnutt died November 15, 1932. In 2002, the Library of America added a major collection of Chesnutt’s works to its important American authors series and in 2008 the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in Chesnutt’s honor.


• June 20, 1890 Cumberland Willis “Cum” Posey, hall of fame Negro League player, manager and team owner, was born in Homestead, Pennsylvania. In his early years, basketball dominated Posey’s life. He was considered one of the top black players of his time. In 1910, Posey organized a group of steelworkers into the Homestead Grays baseball team, one of the most powerful franchises in Negro league history. Posey became manager of the team in 1916 and in the early 1920s became owner. Between 1937 and 1945, his teams won nine consecutive pennants. From 1931 to 1945, Posey wrote a column for the Pittsburgh Courier and from 1931 until his death on March 28, 1946 he was a member of the Homestead Board of Education. In 2006, Posey was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.


• June 20, 1894 Lloyd Augustus Hall, chemist and inventor, was born in Elgin, Illinois, but raised in Aurora, Illinois. Hall earned his Bachelor of Science degree in pharmaceutical chemistry from Northwestern University in 1916 and went on to do graduate work at the University of Chicago. After earning his master’s degree, he was hired by telephone by Western Electric Company, but when they found out that he was black, they rescinded the hire. He then went to work as a chemist for the Department of Health in Chicago. During World War I, Hall served with the United States Ordinance Department as chief inspector of powder and explosives. In 1925, he joined Griffith Laboratories where he worked for 34 years and amassed 59 patents, primarily in the technologies of curing meat. In 1955, Hall was elected to the board of directors of the American Institute of Chemist, the first African American to serve in that capacity. After retiring from Griffith, Hall consulted for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and from 1962 to 1964 sat on the American Food for Peace Council. Hall died January 2, 1971 and was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2004.


• June 20, 1920 Eduardo Chivambo Mondlane, former President of the Mozambican Liberation Front (FRELIMO), was born in Portuguese East Africa. In 1953, Mondlane earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in anthropology and sociology from Oberlin College and in 1960 his Master of Arts and Ph.D. degrees in sociology from Northwestern University. After graduating, he became a United Nations official and later joined the Mozambican pro-independence movement. In 1962, Mondlane was elected president of FRELIMO and in 1964 the organization began a guerilla war to obtain Mozambique’s independence from Portugal. On February 3, 1969, Mondlane was assassinated by a bomb planted in a book that was delivered to him. In June, 1975, Portugal handed over power to FRELIMO and Mozambique became an independent nation. That same year, the university in the capital of Maputo was renamed Eduardo Mondlane University. Mondlane completed “The Struggle for Mozambique,” which describes the colonial system in Mozambique and the struggle for independence, just before his death.


• June 20, 1943 The Detroit Race Riot began with a fist fight between a black man and a white man on Belle Isle. The fight eventually grew into confrontations between groups of blacks and whites and spread into the city. Rumors that black women were being assaulted and white women being raped fueled the confrontations. Stores were looted and buildings burned, primarily around the black section of town called Paradise Valley. After 36 hours, Federal troops restored peace to the streets. Over the course of the riot, 36 people were killed, 25 of whom were African American, 600 injured, 75% of which were African Americans, and 1,800 people were arrested, with black people accounting for more than 85%.


• June 20, 1946 Andre Watts, classical pianist and professor, was born in Nuremberg, Germany, but raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the age of nine, Watts appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra. He graduated from the Philadelphia Musical Academy in 1963 and that same year made his television debut in a nationally televised concert with the New York Philharmonic. In 1964, Watts won the Grammy Award for Best New Classical Artist and he made his European debut in 1966 with the London Symphony Orchestra. By 1969, he was on a full-scale concert tour, playing 150 concerts a year by the mid-1970s. In 1976, his PBS Sunday telecast was the first solo recital presented on Live from Lincoln Center and the first full-length recital to be aired nationally in prime time. Watts continues to be one of the world’s most in demand pianist, performing on the most prestigious concert stages and with the most preeminent orchestras and conductors. Since 2004, he has held the Jack I. and Dora B. Hamlin Endowed Chair in Music at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University.


• June 20, 1949 Lionel Brockman Richie, singer, songwriter, and record producer, was born in Tuskegee, Alabama. Richie went to Tuskegee Institute on a tennis scholarship and graduated in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. In 1968, he became a singer and saxophonist with the Commodores who became popular with albums such as “Natural High” (1978) and “Midnight Magic” (1979). By the late 1970s, Richie had begun to accept songwriting commissions from other artists, including “Lady” for Kenny Rogers which hit number one in 1980. In 1982, Richie began his solo career with his self-titled debut album which included the number one hit “Truly” and sold more than 4 million copies. His follow up album, “Can’t Slow Down” (1983), sold more than 8 million copies and won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. In 1985, Richie wrote and performed “Say You, Say Me” for the film “White Nights.” The song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Also in 1985, he co-wrote with Michael Jackson the mega-hit “We Are the World.” In 2008, he received the George and Ira Gershwin Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2012, Richie released “Tuskegee” which went to the top of the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart and was certified platinum within five weeks of its release. Richie has sold, solo or as a group member, more than 100 million records and has been nominated for 18 Grammy Awards and won four.


• June 20, 1955 Everette “E.” Lynn Harris, author, was born in Flint, Michigan, but grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. Harris earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas in 1977. Harris’ first book, “Invisible Life,” was self-published in 1991. After that, Harris authored ten consecutive books to make the New York Times Best Seller list, including “And This Too Shall Pass” (1997), “Money Can’t Buy Me Love” (2000), “A Love of My Own” (2003), and “Basketball Jones” (2009). “Mama Dearest” (2009) and “In My Father’s House” (2010) were posthumously released. His personal memoir, “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” was published in 2004. Harris died July 23, 2009.


• June 20, 1969 MaliVai “Mal” Washington, former professional tennis player, was born in Glen Cove, New York. Washington began playing tennis at the age of five and as a teenager competed in the United States Tennis Association National Junior Championships. For two seasons, he played tennis for the University of Michigan and was the top ranked college player in the United States. He left school and turned professional in 1989. Washington won his first top-level singles title in 1992 and in 1996 became the first African American male to reach the Wimbledon finals since Arthur Ashe in 1975. Washington retired from the professional tour in 1999 with four tour singles titles. He now serves as a TV analyst and on-court interviewer. Washington is the founder of the MaliVai Washington Kids Foundation in Jacksonville, Florida whose mission is “to develop champions in classrooms, on tennis courts and throughout communities.” In 2009, he was awarded the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year Award.

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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.