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Today in Black History, 7/16/2012

• July 16, 1862 Ida Bell Wells-Barnett, journalist and activist for civil and women’s rights, was born enslaved in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Wells was freed at the end of the Civil War. She attended Rust College, but was expelled for her rebellious behavior after confronting the president of the college. In 1889, Wells became co-owner and editor of Free Speech and Headlight, an anti-segregationist newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1891, a grocery store owned by three black men was perceived to be taking away a substantial amount of business from a white-owned grocery store across the street. The black-owned store was invaded by a mob resulting in three white men being shot and injured. The three black owners, who were friends of Wells, were jailed and subsequently lynched. The murder of her friends sparked Wells’ interest in investigative journalism about lynching and becoming the leader of the anti-lynching crusade. In 1892, she published “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in all Its Phases” and in 1895 she published “A Red Record, 1892-1894” which documented lynchings since the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1893, Wells and other black leaders organized a boycott of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago to protest lynchings in the South. Wells was also significantly involved in the founding of the National Association of Colored Women, the National Afro-American Council, which later became the NAACP, and the Women’s Era Club, which was renamed the Ida B. Wells Club. Wells spent the latter 30 years of her life working on urban reform in Chicago, Illinois. Wells died March 25, 1931 and in 1990 the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor. “Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells” was published in 1970. Her life is also the subject of a musical drama, “Constant Star”, which debuted in 2006. The Ida B. Wells Housing Project in Chicago is named in her honor. Wells-Barnett’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• July 16, 1882, Violette Neatley Anderson, the first African American woman to practice before the United States Supreme Court, was born in London, England, but raised in Chicago, Illinois. Anderson worked as a court reporter from 1905 to 1920 and this sparked her interest in the law. In 1920, Anderson earned her Bachelor of Laws degree from the Chicago Law School and from 1922 to 1923 she served as the first female city prosecutor in Chicago. On January 29, 1926, Anderson was admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court, the first African American woman to attain that status. In addition to her legal practice, Anderson was the first vice president of the Cook County Bar Association and was a member of the executive board of the Chicago Council of Social Agencies. She was also the eighth Grand Basileus of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. Anderson died in 1937.

• July 16, 1934 Donald Milford Payne, the first African American to represent New Jersey in Congress, was born in Newark, New Jersey. Payne earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in social studies from Seton Hall University in 1957. In 1970, he became the first black president of the National Council of YMCAs and from 1973 to 1981 was chairman of the World YMCA Refuge and Rehabilitation Committee. From 1982 to 1988, Payne served on the Newark Municipal Council. Payne was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1988 and served until his death on March 6, 2012. He was a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Payne was active on issues related to Africa and a leading advocate of education. In 2003, President George W. Bush appointed Payne as one of two members of Congress to serve as Congressional delegates to the United Nations and in 2005 reappointed him to an unprecedented second term.

• July 16, 1946 Barbara Jean Lee, the first woman to represent California’s 9th congressional district, was born in El Paso, Texas. Lee was a single mother of two children receiving public assistance when she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Mills College and her Master of Social Work degree from the University of California in 1975. Lee served in the California State Assembly from 1990 to 1996 and the California State Senate from 1996 to 1998. In 1998, she was elected to the United States House of Representatives where she serves on the House Committee on Appropriations. Lee chaired the Congressional Black Caucus from 2009 to 2011.

• July 16, 1968 Barry David Sanders, hall of fame football player, was born in Wichita, Kansas. Sanders played college football at Oklahoma State University from 1986 to 1988. In 1988, in what many consider the greatest season in college football history, Sanders led the nation by averaging 7.6 yards per carry and over 200 yards per game. That year he set 34 NCAA records and won the Heisman Trophy as the year’s most outstanding player in college football. Sanders was selected by the Detroit Lions in the 1989 NFL Draft and that year won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. Over his 10 season professional career, Sanders was a ten-time All-Pro, two-time Offensive Player of the Year, and the 1997 co-NFL Most Valuable Player. Sanders retired in 1999. Sanders’ autobiography, “Barry Sanders: Now You See Him”, was published in 2003. Also in 2003, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and in 2004 was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sanders is involved in several business ventures and is actively involved with the Boys and Girls Club and the Scleroderma Foundation.

• July 16, 1992 Junious “Buck” Buchanan, hall of fame football player, died. Buchanan was born September 10, 1940 in Gainesville, Alabama. He played college football at Grambling State University where he was an NAIA All-American selection. Buchanan was the first player selected overall by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1963 AFL Draft, making him the first black number one draft choice in professional football history. Over his 13 season professional career, Buchanan was a six-time All-Pro. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990 and posthumously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996. The Buck Buchanan Award is awarded annually to the most outstanding defensive player in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision of college football.

• July 16, 1998 John Henrik Clarke, Pan-Africanist writer, historian, and professor, died. Clarke was born January 1, 1915 in Union Springs, Alabama. In 1933, Clarke left the South and moved to Harlem, New York where he joined study circles like the Harlem History Club and the Harlem Writers’ Workshop. He was a self-educated intellectual. Clarke was co-founder of the Harlem Quarterly from 1949 to 1951, book review editor of the Negro History Bulletin from 1948 to 1952, and associate editor of Freedomways. He was a founder and the first president of the African Heritage Studies Association which supported scholars in history, culture, literature, and the arts. He was also a founding member of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters and the African-American Scholars’ Council. In 1969, he was the founding chairman of the Department of Black and Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College. He also was the Carter G. Woodson Distinguished Visiting Professor of African History at Cornell University’s Africana Studies and Research Center. In 1985, Cornell named the John Henrik Clarke Library in his honor and in 1995 he was awarded the Carter G. Woodson Medallion by the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History.

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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.