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Today in Black History, 6/2/2012

• June 2, 1868 John Hope, educator and political activist, was born in Augusta, Georgia. Hope graduated from Worcester Academy in 1890 and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Brown University in 1894. In 1898, Hope became professor of classics at Atlanta Baptist College (now Morehouse College) and in 1906 he was appointed the institution’s first black president. Hope also joined W.E.B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter as founders of the Niagara Movement. In 1928, Morehouse and Spelman College affiliated with Atlanta University and in 1929 Hope was chosen to be president, a position he held until his death on February 20, 1936. Later in 1936, Hope was posthumously awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. Hope was awarded honorary degrees by several colleges and universities, including Brown University, Bates College, and Howard University. Hope’s biography, “The Story of John Hope,” was published in 1948 and “A Clashing of the Soul: John Hope and the Dilemma of African American Leadership and Black Higher Education in the Early Twentieth Century” was published in 1998.

 

• June 2, 1900 Samori Ture, founder of the Wassoulou Empire, died. Ture was born around 1830 in what is now southeastern Guinea and early in his life he converted to Islam. In 1861, he was named war chief and after conquering other tribes and gaining control of more land, by 1881 his empire extended through Guinea and Mali from what is now Sierra Leone to northern Cote d’Ivoire. By 1887, Ture had a disciplined army of 30,000 to 35,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry. His military and administrative genius was compared to Napolean’s. In the late 1870s, the French began to expand aggressively in West Africa and from 1882 to his capture in 1898Ture led the resistance to French rule in West Africa. Ture died in captivity.

 

• June 2, 1907 Dorothy West, novelist and short story writer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts. West wrote her first story at the age of seven and at the age of 14 won several local writing competitions. In 1926, West tied for second place with Zora Neale Hurston in a writing contest sponsored by the Urban League’s Opportunity magazine with her short story “The Typewriter.” After moving to Harlem, New York in 1934, West founded and published the Challenge magazine and its successor New Challenge magazine which were among the first to publish literature featuring realistic portrayals of African Americans. During the early 1940s, West wrote a number of short stories for the New York Daily News. In 1948, West’s first novel, “The Living Is Easy,” was published. For the next 40 years, West worked as a journalist for small newspapers on Martha’s Vineyard. In 1995, her second novel, “The Wedding,” was published and in 1998 Oprah Winfrey turned it into a two-part television mini-series. Also in 1995, a collection of her short stories and reminiscences called “The Richer, the Poorer” was published. West died August 16, 1998, one of the last surviving members of the Harem Renaissance, and her biography, “Dorothy West’s Paradise: A Biography of Class and Color,” was published in 2012.

 

• June 2, 1922 Charles Sifford, professional golfer who helped to desegregate the Professional Golfers Association of America, was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. At the age of 13, Sifford began work as a caddy and later he competed in golf tournaments organized for black golfers. In 1952, he attempted to qualify for the Phoenix Open and was subjected to threats and racial abuse. In 1957, he won the Long Beach Open which was not an official PGA event. In 1961, he became a member of the PGA Tour and went on to win two official PGA events. He also won the 1975 PGA Seniors’ Championship. In 2004, Sifford became the first African American inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. In 2007, he received the Old Tom Morris Award from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, their highest honor. In 2009, the Northern Trust Open created the Charlie Sifford Exemption for a player who represents the advancement of diversity in golf. In 2011, Revolution Golf Course in Charlotte was renamed Charlie Sifford Golf Course. Sifford’s autobiography, “Just Let Me Play,” was published in 1992.

 

• June 2, 1928 Timothy Thomas Fortune, journalist, editor and civil rights leader, died. Fortune was born enslaved on October 3, 1856 in Marianna, Florida. He was freed after slavery was abolished in 1863. Although mostly self-taught, in 1875 Fortune enrolled in Howard University to first study law and then journalism. In 1876, he dropped out to begin work at the People’s Advocate, a Washington, D.C. newspaper. In 1881, Fortune moved to New York City and founded a newspaper that four years later would become the New York Age, the Afro-American journal of news and opinion. The New York Age became the most widely read of all black newspapers. He sold the newspaper in 1907. Fortune was the leading advocate for using Afro-American to identify his people, reasoning that “they are African in origin and American in birth.” In 1890, Fortune co-founded the National Afro-American League to right wrongs against African Americans authorized by law and sanctioned or tolerated by public opinion. The league fell apart after four years, but was resurrected in 1898 as the National Afro-American Council with Fortune as president. In 1923, Fortune became the editor for Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association’s Negro World. At its height, Negro World had a circulation of over 200,000 and was distributed around the world. Fortune published several books, including “Black and White: Land, Labor, and Politics in the South” (1884), “The Kind of Education the Afro-American Most Needs” (1898), and “The New York Negro in Journalism” (1915). Fortune’s home in Red Bank, New Jersey was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. His biography, “T. Thomas Fortune: Militant Journalist,” was published in1972.

 

• June 2, 1951 Kenneth Irvine Chennault, the third African American Chief Executive Officer of a Fortune 500 company, was born on Long Island, New York. Chennault earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Bowdoin College in 1973 and his juris doctorate degree from Harvard Law School in 1976. After Harvard, he worked as an associate at a law firm and as a consultant at a consulting company. Chennault joined American Express in 1981, became President and Chief Operating Officer in 1997, and became CEO in 2001. Chennault is a member of the Business Roundtable, a member of the Board of Directors of IBM and Proctor & Gamble, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2002, he was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame.

 

• June 2, 1951 Cornelius H. Charlton, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Charlton was born July 24, 1929 in East Gulf, West Virginia, but raised in the Bronx, New York. He enlisted in the United States Army in 1946 and served with the troops occupying Germany after World War II. A career soldier, Charlton was sent to Korea and initially assigned to an engineering group. He requested a transfer to an infantry unit and was assigned to Company C of the 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, the last all-black regiment. On June 2, 1951, near the village of Chipo-ri, Korea, his platoon came under heavy fire and his platoon leader was wounded. Sergeant Charlton took command, regrouped his men, and led an assault. Wounded by a grenade, he refused medical treatment and continued to lead the charge. He single-handedly attacked and disabled the last remaining enemy gun emplacement. While doing this, he suffered another grenade wound and died. For his actions, Charlton’s parents were presented the medal, America’s highest military decoration, on March 12, 1952. In 1958, trees were planted in a park in the Bronx in his honor, in 1993 an army barracks complex in South Korea was named in his honor, and in 1999 the USNS Charlton was christened in his honor.

 

• June 2, 1953 Cornel Ronald West, educator, author and civil rights activist, was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but grew up in Sacramento, California. West earned his bachelor’s degree magna cum laude in Near Eastern Languages and Civilization from Harvard College in 1973. He went on to earn his Master of Arts degree in 1975 and Ph.D. in 1980 from Princeton University. West taught at Union Theological Seminary from 1977 to 1983 and at Yale Divinity School from 1984 to 1987. From 1988 to 1994, he was professor of religion and director of the Program in African American Studies at Princeton. In 1998, he was appointed the first Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University. In 2001, West returned to Princeton where he is currently professor of African American studies. West has authored more than 20 books, including “Black Theology and Marxist Thought” (1979), “Race Matters” (1993), “The Future of the Race” (1996), and “Brother West: Living & Loving Out Loud” (2009). He has also received more than 20 honorary degrees from colleges and universities around the country.

 

• June 2, 2008 Bo Diddley, vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, died. Diddley was born Elias Otha Bates on December 30, 1928 in McComb, Mississippi. In 1934, his family moved to Chicago, Illinois where in the early 1940s he began to perform. In 1954, he recorded “Bo Diddley” which became a number one R&B hit in 1955. Diddley continued to have hits during the late 1950s and early 1960s, including “Pretty Thing” (1956), “Say Man” (1959), and “You Can’t Judge a Book By the Cover” (1962). Between 1958 and 1963, he released eleven full-length albums. In 1987, Diddley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1998 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 1999 his song “Bo Diddley” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as a recording of “lasting qualitative or historical significance.” Diddley played at the presidential inaugurations of President George W. Bush in 1989 and President William Clinton in 1993. His biography, “Bo Diddley: Living Legend,” was published in 1998. His recordings “Bo Diddley” and “I’m A Man” (1955) were added to the National Recording Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” in 2012.

 

• June 2, 2011 Geronimo Pratt, civil rights activist, died. Pratt was born Elmer Gerald Pratt on September 13, 1947 in Morgan City, Louisiana. He served in the United States Army from 1965 to 1968, serving two combat tours during the Vietnam War. He reached the rank of sergeant and earned two Bronze Stars, a Silver Star, and two Purple Hearts. After being discharged, Pratt moved to Los Angeles, California and joined the Black Panther Party. In 1972, he was convicted of kidnapping and murder and served 27 years in prison, eight of which were in solitary confinement. In 1997, Pratt’s conviction was overturned and he eventually received a $4.5 million settlement for false imprisonment. After his release, Pratt worked on behalf of men and women believed to be wrongly incarcerated until his death. His biography, “Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt,” was published in 2000.

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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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