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Today in Black History, 7/10/2012

• July 10, 1875 Mary Jane McLeod Bethune, educator and civil rights leader, was born in Mayesville, South Carolina. Bethune attended Scotia Seminary (now Barber-Scotia College) from 1888 to 1894 and then Dwight Moody’s Institute for Home and Foreign Missions (now Moody Bible Institute). In 1899, Bethune moved to Palatka, Florida where she ran a mission school and conducted outreach programs for prisoners. In 1904, she rented a small house in Daytona Beach, Florida and started the Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls with 5 students. By 1910, enrollment had risen to 102 and in 1923 the school merged with the Cookman Institute for Men, became co-educational and eventually became Bethune-Cookman University. Bethune served as president of the college from 1923 to 1942 and 1946 to 1947. From 1917 to 1925, Bethune served as the Florida chapter president of the National Association of Colored Women and in 1924 she served as national president. She also served as president of the Southeastern Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs from 1920 to 1925. In 1935, Bethune founded the National Council of Negro Women to bring together 28 different organizations to facilitate improvements in the quality of life for women and their communities. In 1938, the NCNW hosted the White House Conference on Negro Women and Children. Also in 1938, Bethune was appointed director of the Division of Negro Affairs in the National Youth Administration, making her the first African American female federal agency head. Bethune dedicated her life to the education of blacks and whites and in 1939 stated “not only the Negro child, but children of all races should read and know of the achievements, accomplishments and deeds of the Negro. World peace and brotherhood are based on a common understanding of the contributions and cultures of all races and creeds.” Bethune was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 1935 and in 1949 became the first woman to receive the Medal of Honor and Merit, the highest award given by the Haitian government. Bethune died May 18, 1955 and in 1973 was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. In 1974, a sculpture in her honor was unveiled in Washington, D.C. and in 1985 the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor. In 2004, her last residence became the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site in Washington D.C. There are a number of schools across the nation named in her honor. Bethune’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

 

• July 10, 1889 Noble Sissle, composer, lyricist, bandleader, and playwright, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. At an early age, Sissle started singing in the church choir and as a teenager toured the Midwest as part of a gospel quartet. In 1915, he met Eubie Blake and they formed a vaudeville musical duo, The Dixie Duo. Although their act contained some of the stereotypes of the day, they refused to wear blackface. In 1921, they premiered “Shuffle Along” which became the first hit musical on Broadway written by and about African Americans. They also produced the musical “Chocolate Dandies” in 1924. Sissle and Blake then toured Europe as the American Ambassadors of Syncopation. After breaking up with Blake, Sissle enjoyed a successful career as a bandleader of several bands during the 1930s and 1940s. Sissle died December 17, 1975. “Reminiscing With Sissle and Blake” (2000) recounts the lives and music of Sissle and Blake.

 

• July 10, 1922 Herbert Henry McKenley, track and field athlete, was born in Clarendon, Jamaica. McKenley attended the University of Illinois and won the NCAA championships in the 220 yard and 440 yard events in 1946 and 1947. He also was the AAU champion in the 440 yard race in 1945, 1947, and 1948. At the 1948 London Olympic Games, McKenley won the Silver medal for the 400 meter race. At the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games, he won a Gold medal as a member of the 4 by 400 meter relay team and Silver medals in the 100 and 400 meter races. After retiring, McKenley coached the Jamaican national team from 1954 to 1973 and served as president of the Jamaica Amateur Athletic Association. He was awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit, the third highest honor bestowed by the nation, in 2004 for his contributions in track and field. McKenley died November 26, 2007 and Herb McKenley Stadium in Clarendon is named in his honor.

 

• July 10, 1927 David Norman Dinkins, the first African American Mayor of New York City, was born in Trenton, New Jersey. After graduating from high school, Dinkins attempted to enlist in the United States Marine Corps, but was told that their racial quota had been filled. After serving briefly in the army, he completed his military service in the marines. Dinkins earned his Bachelor of Science degree magna cum laude in mathematics from Howard University in 1950 and in 1956 graduated from the Brooklyn Law School. In 1965, Dinkins was elected to the New York State Legislature and from 1975 to 1985 served as New York City Clerk. In 1985, he was elected Manhattan Borough President and in 1989 he was elected Mayor. Dinkins served as Mayor of New York City from 1990 to 1993. Dinkins is a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and the university annually host the David Dinkins Leadership and public Policy Forum. He is also on the Board of Directors of the Jazz Foundation of America and works on behalf of elderly jazz and blues musicians.

 

• July 10, 1938 Edward Lee Morgan, jazz trumpeter, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Morgan received his first trumpet at the age of 13 and at 18 joined Dizzy Gillespie’s big band where he was a member for 18 months. In 1958, he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and was featured on a number of their albums. As a leader, Morgan recorded 30 albums, including “The Sidewinder” (1963), his most commercially successful album, “Cornbread” (1965), and “The Last Session” (1971). In the last two years of his life, he became more politically involved, becoming one of the leaders of the Jazz and People’s Movement which protested the lack of jazz artists as guest performers and members of the bands of television shows. Morgan was murdered February 19, 1972 and was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1991. His biographies include “Lee Morgan: His Life, Music and Culture” (2006) and “Delightful Lee: The Life and Music of Lee Morgan” (2008).

 

• July 10, 1939 Mavis Staples, gospel and R&B singer and civil rights activist, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Staples began singing with her family group, The Staple Singers, in 1950. By the mid-1960s, the group had become the spiritual and musical voices of the civil rights movement. During the 1970s, they had a number of hits, including “I’ll Take You There” (1972), “If You’re Ready (Come Go with Me)” (1973), and “Let’s Do It Again” (1975). Staples released her first solo album, “Mavis Staples,” in 1969. Other solo albums by Staples include “A Piece of the Action” (1977), “The Voice” (1993), and “You Are Not Alone” (2010) which won the Grammy Award for Best Americana Album. With The Staple Singers, Staples was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. She has received honorary doctorate degrees from Berklee College of Music and Columbia College.

 

• July 10, 1941 Jelly Roll Morton, ragtime and jazz pianist, bandleader, and composer, died. Morton was born Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe on September 20, 1885 in New Orleans, Louisiana. At the age of 14, Morton began playing piano in a brothel and around 1904 was wandering the south, working with minstrel shows and composing. By 1914, he started writing down his compositions and his “Jelly Roll Blues” (1915) was the first jazz composition ever published. Other compositions by Morton include “Black Bottom Stomp” (1925) and “Wolverine Stomp” (1927). In 1926, Morton got a contract to record for Victor Records and these recordings by Jelly Roll Morton & His Red Hot Peppers are regarded as classics of 1920s jazz. In 1938, Morton recorded music and interviews for the Library of Congress which was released in 2005 as “The Complete Library of Congress Recordings.” The collection won Grammy Awards for Best Historical Album and Best Album Notes. In 1963, Morton was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. In 1998, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 2005 was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Two Broadway shows have featured his music, “Jelly Roll” and “Jelly’s Last Jam.” Several biographies have been written about Morton, including “Mister Jelly Roll” (1950) and “Jelly’s Blues: The Life, Music and Redemption of Jelly Roll Morton” (2003).

 

• July 10, 1943 Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr., hall of fame tennis player and civil rights activist, was born in Richmond, Virginia. In 1963, Ashe became the first black player selected to the United States Davis Cup team and in 1965 he won the National Collegiate Athletic Association tennis singles title. Ashe earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration from the University of California in the ROTC program in 1966 and spent the next two years in the army, reaching the rank of first lieutenant. In 1968, Ashe won the U.S. Amateur Championship and the U.S. Open, the only player to ever win both in the same year. Ashe turned professional in 1969 and won the Australian Open in 1970 and Wimbledon in 1975. Ashe retired in 1980 and was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985. Two months before his death on February 6, 1993, Ashe founded the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health to address issues of inadequate health care delivery. Ashe’s autobiography, “Days of Grace,” was published immediately following his death. Posthumously, Ashe received many honors, including a statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond, the 1993 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, presented by President William Clinton, naming of the main stadium at the USTA National Tennis Center in his honor, a commemorative postage stamp issued by the United States Postal Service in 2005, and the naming of the ESPN Arthur Ashe Courage Award for a member of the sports world who best exhibits courage in the face of adversity. Also, many schools are named in his honor, including the Arthur Ashe Academy in Southfield, Michigan. Ashe’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

 

• July 10, 1954 Andre Nolan Dawson, hall of fame baseball player, was born in Miami, Florida. Dawson graduated from Florida A & M University. He was selected by the Montreal Expos in the 1975 Major League Baseball Draft and made his major league debut in September, 1976. In 1977, Dawson won the National League Rookie of the Year Award. Over his 20 season professional career, Dawson was an eight-time All-Star, eight-time Gold Glove Award winner, and in 1987 was the National League Most Valuable Player. Dawson retired at the end of the 1996 season and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010. He currently works in the Florida Marlins’ organization. Dawson published his autobiography, “If You Love This Game: An MVP’s Life in Baseball,” in 2012.

 

• July 10, 1973 The Bahamas gained full independence from the United Kingdom. The Bahamas is a country consisting of 29 islands, 661 cays, and 2387 islets. It is located northeast of the Caribbean Sea in the Atlantic Ocean north of Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, northwest of the Turks and Caicos Islands, and southeast of the United States. The Bahamas’ total land area is 5,382 square miles and the estimated population is 330,000. Bahamians of African descent make up 85% of the population and Bahamians of European descent make up 12%.

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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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