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Today in Black History, 7/13/2012

• July 13, 1863 The New York Draft Riots started. Initially intended to express anger at the draft for the Civil War, the protests turned ugly and degraded into “a virtual racial pogrom, with uncounted numbers of Blacks murdered in the streets.” Numerous buildings were destroyed, including an orphanage for black children. Many of the protesters were immigrants and viewed freed African Americans as competition for scarce jobs. Order was restored after four days and it is estimated that 120 people were killed and 2,000 injured. At least eleven black men were lynched. Several books have been written about the riots, including “The Armies of the Streets: The New York City Draft Riots of 1863” (1974) and “The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War” (1990).

 

• July 13, 1901 Peter “Black Prince” Jackson, the first black man to win a national boxing crown, died. Jackson was born July 3, 1861 in Christiansted, Saint Croix. Jackson began working as a dock hand in the Sidney, Australia docks when he was 14. On September 25, 1886 he won the Australian Heavyweight Boxing Championship with a 30th round knockout of Tom Leeds. Jackson soon found it difficult to get opponents in Australia so he moved to the United States. In 1888, he beat “Old Chocolate” Godfrey to win the World “Colored” Heavyweight Boxing Championship. In 1891, John L. Sullivan, the reigning world heavyweight champion, refused to fight Jackson because he was a black man and therefore Jackson fought James Corbett to a 61 round draw that was stopped because both boxers were too exhausted to continue. The next year, Corbett knocked out Sullivan to win the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship. Corbett stated in his autobiography that Jackson could have beaten any heavyweight he ever saw. Also in 1892, Jackson won the British Empire Boxing Championship. Jackson retired in 1899 with a record of 45 wins, 4 losses, and 5 draws. Jackson was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Australian Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004.

 

• July 13, 1928 Robert Nelson Cornelius Nix, Jr., the first African American elected to statewide office in Pennsylvania and the first chief justice of any state’s highest court, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Nix earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from Villanova University in 1952 and his Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1955. He served two years in the United States Army. After serving two years as a Deputy Attorney General, Nix spent the next ten years in private practice where he gained a reputation as a civil rights advocate. In 1967, Nix was elected a judge on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and in 1972 he was elected an associate justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the first African American elected to statewide office. He became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1984 and held that position until his retirement in 1996.From 1991 to 1992, Nix served as president of the National Conference of Chief Justices. Nix died August 23, 2003.

 

• July 13, 1934 Akinwande Oluwole “Wole” Soyinka, writer, poet, playwright, and political activist, was born in Abeokuta, Nigeria. Soyinka studied at the University College, Ibadan from 1952 to 1954 and the University of Leeds from 1954 to 1957 where he received a first class honours degree in English literature. Soyinka returned to Nigeria and began to play an active role in Nigerian politics. In 1967, during the Nigerian Civil War he was arrested and put into solitary confinement for his attempts to broker a peace. While in prison, he wrote poetry on tissue paper which was published in the collection “Poems from Prison” (1969). After the end of the civil war, Soyinka was released from prison after serving 22 months. Soyinka has been a consistent and outspoken critic of Nigerian military dictators and of political tyranny worldwide. In 1986, Soyinka was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first African to be so honored, as one “who in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence.” In 1994, he was designated United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Goodwill Ambassador for the promotion of African culture, human rights, freedom of expression, media and communications. From 1975 to 1999, Soyinka was professor of comparative literature at the Obafemi Awolowo University. A prolific writer, he has written many plays, collections of poetry, novels, and essays. In 2006, his memoir, “You Must Set Forth at Dawn,” was published. Soyinka has received honorary doctorate degrees from Harvard and Princeton Universities.

 

• July 13, 1953, Frederick Nanka-Bruce, physician, journalist, and politician, died. Nanka-Bruce was born in 1878 in Accra, Gold Coast (now Ghana). In 1906, he earned his Bachelor of Medicine degree from Edinburgh University in London, England. He returned to Accra in 1907 and built a private practice as the third African to practice medicine in the colony. He also served as a government adviser on public health. In 1918, he founded The Gold Coast Independent newspaper. In 1933, Nanka-Bruce co-founded and served as the first president of the Gold Coast Medical Practitioners Union and in 1951 he co-founded and served as the first president of the Ghana branch of the British Medical Association. From 1931 to 1935 and from 1946 to 1950, Nanka-Bruce was a member of the Legislative Council. In 1935, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire.

 

• July 13, 1954 David O’Neil Thompson, college hall of fame basketball player, was born in Shelby, North Carolina. During his college basketball career at North Carolina State University, Thompson was a three-time All-American and in 1975 was the Naismith College Player of the Year. Also that year, North Carolina State retired his jersey number 44, the only number retired by the university. Thompson was selected by the Denver Nuggets in the 1975 American Basketball Association Draft and in 1976 was the ABA Rookie of the Year. Over his nine season professional career, Thompson was a four-time All-Star. Thompson retired at the end of the 1984 season and in 1996 was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. In 2003, Thompson earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology from North Carolina State. Also that year, he published his autobiography, “Skywalker” and in 2004 a documentary, “Skywalker: The David Thompson Story,” was produced. In 2006, Thompson was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. He now works with young basketball players, helping them to aspire to his achievements and avoid his mistakes.

 

• July 13, 1956 Michael Spinks, hall of fame boxer, was born in St. Louis, Missouri. After compiling a record of 93 wins and 7 losses as an amateur, Spinks won the Middleweight Boxing Gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games. He turned professional in 1977 and was undefeated when he won the World Light-Heavyweight Boxing Championship in 1981. After ten successful defenses of the title, he moved up to the heavyweight division and in 1985 won the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship, becoming the first reigning light-heavyweight champion to win the heavyweight title. In 1988, Spinks lost the heavyweight title and retired with a professional record of 31 wins and 1 lost. He is a rare elite boxer who retired with money and his health who did not return to the ring. Spinks was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994.

 

• July 13, 1966 Gerald Edward Levert, singer, songwriter, and producer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but raised in Cleveland, Ohio. While in high school, Levert formed the group LeVert in 1984. Four of the group’s seven albums, “I Get Her” (1985), “Bloodline” (1986), “The Big Throwdown” (1987), and “Just Coolin’” (1988), went platinum. In 1991, Levert released his first solo album, “Private Line,” which went to number one on the R&B charts. Other solo albums by Levert include “Groove On” (1994), “Gerald’s World” (2001), and “Voices” (2005). Levert died November 10, 2006 and the album “In My Songs” was released the following year. Also in 2007, Levert’s book “I Got Your Back: A Father and Son Keep It Real About Love, Fatherhood, Family, and Friendship” was published. Levert was nominated for four Grammy Awards and posthumously won the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Traditional R&B Performance for “In My Songs.”

 

• July 13, 2010 Vernon Joseph Baker, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Baker was born December 17, 1919 in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He graduated from high school and worked several menial jobs before enlisting in the United States Army in 1941. After completing Officer Candidate School, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1943. In 1944, Baker was sent to Italy with the all-black 92nd Infantry Division. On April 5, 1945, he participated in an attack on the German stronghold of Castle Aghinolfi. During the assault, he led his heavy weapons platoon through German defenses to within sight of the castle, personally destroying three machine gun nests, two observation posts, two bunkers, and a network of German telephone lines. It was for these actions that he was later awarded the medal. Baker retired from the military in 1968 as a first lieutenant. In 1992, a study commissioned by the U.S. Army described systematic discrimination in the criteria for awarding medals during World War II. No Medal of Honors had been awarded to Black soldiers who served in the war. After a review of files, the study recommended that seven Black Distinguished Service Cross recipients have their awards upgraded to the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration. On January 13, 1997, President William Clinton presented the medals. Baker was the only recipient still living.

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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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