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Today in Black History, 7/21/2012

• July 21, 1840 Christian Abraham Fleetwood, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. Fleetwood received his early education in the office of the secretary of the Maryland Colonization Society, went briefly to Liberia and Sierra Leone, and graduated in 1860 from Ashmun Institute (later Lincoln University). After the Civil War started, Fleetwood enlisted in the 4th Regiment United States Colored Infantry and was given the rank of sergeant. On September 29, 1864, his regiment participated in the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm outside of Richmond, Virginia. When a flag bearer was wounded, Fleetwood grabbed the flag from him before it could touch the ground and continued forward under heavy fire. On April 6, 1865, Fleetwood was issued the medal, America’s highest military decoration. His citation reads, “Seized the colors, after 2 color bearers had been shot down, and bore them nobly through the fight.” After the war, Fleetwood was instrumental in organizing the Colored High School Cadet Corps of the District of Columbia in 1888. He served as their instructor until 1897 and developed a tradition of military service among the young men which led some of them to enlist in World War I. Fleetwood died September 28, 1914 and his name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• July 21, 1858 Alonzo Franklin Herndon, founder of the Atlantic Life Insurance Company, was born enslaved in Georgia. After the Civil War, Herndon and his family were freed, but were forced to continue working for the family that enslaved them at meager wages. Throughout his youth, Herndon worked in the fields and as a result had little formal education. By the time he was 20, he had saved enough money to run away. In 1882, Herndon moved to Atlanta, Georgia and in 1890 opened his own barbershop. It served only white customers and quickly became one of the city’s leading barbershops. In 1902, Herndon opened The Chrystal Palace, a lavishly appointed barbershop with chandeliers and marble floors, which served judges, politicians, and the business elite. In 1905, he bought the Atlanta Benevolent and Protective Association for $140. He renamed it the Atlanta Mutual Insurance Association and by 1907 had 23 offices across Georgia. In 1922, it was renamed the Atlanta Life Insurance Company and was operating in several Southern states. Herndon was a leading philanthropist, providing large sums to a local orphanage and kindergarten for black children and to the leading Atlanta church. He was a delegate to the first conference of the National Negro Business League in 1890 and was involved in the 1905 Niagara Movement. Herndon died July 21, 1927. The home he built in 1910 in Atlanta was turned into a museum and in 2000 was designated a National Historic Landmark. “The Herndons: An Atlanta Family” (2002) chronicles his story and that of his descendents.

• July 21, 1896 The National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs was founded in Washington, D.C. by the merger of the National Federation of Afro-American Women, the Women’s Era Clubs of Boston, and the Colored Women’s League of Washington, D.C. Their original mission was “to furnish evidence of the moral, mental and material progress made by people of color through the efforts of our women.” By 1918, membership had grown to 300,000 nationwide. Today, their objectives include working for the economic, moral, religious and social welfare of women and youth, protecting the rights of women and youth, raising the standard and quality of life in home and family, enforcement of civil and political rights for African Americans and all citizens, promoting the education of women and youth, obtaining for African American women the opportunity of reaching the highest levels in all fields of human endeavor, and promoting inter-racial understanding so that justice and goodwill may prevail among all people.

• July 21, 1906 Harry S. McAlpin, the first African American admitted to a White House press conference, was born in Louisville, Kentucky. On February 8, 1944, while working for the National Negro Press and the Atlanta Daily World, he was advised by the head of the White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) that he was not welcome to the press conference. McAlpin attended anyway and at the end of the conference was welcomed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Later, McAlpin was accepted into the WHCA and covered Presidents Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman for 51 black newspapers. He was also a navy war correspondent and spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Later, McAlpin practiced law in Louisville. McAlpin is presumed dead, but the date of his death is not known.

• July 21, 1933 Charles Randolph Uncles, the first black seminarian to be educated and ordained a priest in the United States, died. The date and place of Uncles’ birth is unknown, but it is known that he desired to be a priest at an early age. He attended Baltimore Normal School for Teachers and taught in the Baltimore Public School System. He graduated from St. Hyacinthe College in Quebec, Canada with the highest grades in his class. On December 19, 1891, Uncles was ordained a priest and from 1891 to 1925 he taught at Epiphany College in Baltimore. He was also instrumental in forming the Society of St. Joseph the Sacred Heart in 1893. The Knights of Peter Claver, Father Charles Council #4 and the Charles R. Uncles Senior Plaza in Baltimore are named in his honor.

• July 21, 1944 John Evans Atta Mills, President of the Republic of Ghana, was born in Tarkwa, Gold Coast (now Ghana). Mills earned his Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Ghana in 1967 and his Master of Laws degree from the London School of Economics in 1968. In 1971, he earned his Ph.D. in tax law from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London and was selected as a Fulbright scholar at Stanford University Law School. Mills then spent 25 years teaching at the University of Ghana and other institutions of higher learning. From 1997 to 2001, Mills served as Vice President of Ghana and in 2008 was elected president. Mills has written more than a dozen publications, including “Taxation of Periodical or Deferred Payments Arising from the Sale of Fixed Capital” (1974) and “Ghana’s New Investment Code: An Appraisal” (1993).

• July 21, 1959 Elijah Jerry “Pumpsie” Green entered the baseball game as a pinch-runner for the Boston Red Sox, making him the first black player for the last major league baseball team to integrate. Green was born October 27, 1933 in Boley, Oklahoma. He played with the Red Sox until 1962 when he was traded to the New York Mets. Green retired from baseball after the 1963 season and for the next 20 years taught math and coached baseball at a California high school. On April 17, 2009, Green was honored by the Red Sox in a first-pitch ceremony, in recognition of 50 years since his breaking of the Red Sox color barrier.

• July 21, 1967 Albert John Lutuli, South African teacher and politician, died. Lutuli was born around 1898 in Bulawayo, South Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). After completing a teaching course, Lutuli began running a small primary school in the Natal uplands. In 1920, he received a government scholarship to attend a higher teacher’s training course at Adams College and subsequently joined the college’s staff. In 1928, he became secretary of the African Teacher’s Association and in 1933 its president. In 1944, Lutuli joined the African National Congress and in 1951 he was elected president of the KwaZulu Province Provincial Division of the ANC. The government demanded that he withdraw his membership in the ANC or forfeit his office as tribal chief. Refusing to do either, Lutuli was dismissed from his chieftainship by the government. In 1952, Lutuli was elected president-general of the ANC. Responding immediately, the government imposed two two-year bans on his movement and confined him to a 15 mile radius of his home. In 1956, he was arrested and charged with treason and, after a year in custody, another five-year ban was imposed on his movement. In 1960, Lutuli was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the non-violent struggle against apartheid. “Chief Albert Lutuli of South Africa” was published in 1963.

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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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