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Today in Black History, 7/2/2012

• July 2, 1822 Denmark Vesey was executed for planning what would have been one of the largest slave rebellions in the United States. It is thought that Vesey was born around 1767 on the island of St. Thomas. In 1781, he was purchased by Captain Joseph Vesey who eventually settled in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1799, Vesey won $1500 in a city lottery which he used to purchase his freedom and began working as a carpenter. In 1816, he co-founded a branch of the African Methodist Church. Inspired by the revolutionary spirit and actions of enslaved people during the 1791 Haitian Revolution, Vesey began to plan a slave rebellion. His insurrection, which was to take place on July 14, 1822, became known to thousands of blacks along the Carolina coast. Their plan was to sail to Haiti after the revolt. The plot was leaked and 67 men were convicted and 35 hanged, including Vesey. Many antislavery activists came to regard Vesey as a hero and during the Civil War Frederick Douglas used Vesey’s name as a battle cry to rally African American regiments. Vesey was the subject of a 1939 opera named after him and a 1980s made for television drama, “Denmark Vesey’s Revolt.” A biography, “He Shall Go Free: The Lives of Denmark Vesey”, was published in 2004.

 

• July 2, 1829 The Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first successful Roman Catholic sisterhood in the world established by women of African descent, was founded in Baltimore, Maryland. It was founded by four women who were part of the Caribbean refugee colony which began arriving in Baltimore in the late 18th century with the mission of teaching and caring for African American children. They opened St. Francis Academy, a Catholic school for girls, which continues to operate today as the oldest continuously operated school for black Catholic children in the United States. In 1863, the order opened a mission in Philadelphia and one in New Orleans in 1867. Eventually the order founded schools in 18 states. By the 1950s, there were over 300 Oblate Sisters of Providence teach and caring for black children across the U.S. and the Caribbean. In 1961, Our Lady of Mount Providence was built in southwest Baltimore County and it remains the order’s motherhouse today. The sisterhood has operated a child development center and reading and math center at the motherhouse since 1972. Today, the order has approximately 80 members.

 

• July 2, 1908 Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. Marshall earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Lincoln University in 1930 and his Bachelor of Laws degree from Howard University School of Law in 1933. In 1934, he began working for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He won his first major civil rights case, Murray v. Pearson, in 1936 and his first case before the Supreme Court, Chambers v. Florida, in 1940. In total, Marshall won 29 of 32 cases he argued before the Supreme Court. His most famous case was the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, in which the court ruled that “separate, but equal” public education could never be truly equal. Marshall was the 1946 recipient of the NAACP Spingarn Medal. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and in 1967 President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to the Supreme Court. Marshall served on the Supreme Court for 24 years, retiring in 1991. Marshall died January 24, 1993 and there are numerous memorials to him around the country, including the main office building of the federal court system which is named in his honor and has a statue of him in the atrium. In 1976, Texas Southern University named their law school after him and in 1980 the University of Maryland opened the Thurgood Marshall Law Library. Marshall received the Liberty Medal in 1992 in recognition of his long history of protecting individual rights under the Constitution and in 1993 was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President William Clinton. Biographies of Marshall include “Thurgood Marshall: American Revoulutionary” (1998) and “Thurgood Marshall” (2002). Marshall’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

 

• July 2, 1908 Charles “Teenie” Harris, photographer, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Harris began his photography career in the early 1930s and in 1936 joined the Pittsburgh Courier as staff photographer. He worked for the Courier until 1975 and during that time took thousands of images capturing celebrities and chronicling decades of black life in Pittsburgh. He photographed celebrities like Lena Horne, Martin Luther King, Jr., Satchel Paige, and Muhammad Ali, but also featured black cab drivers, musicians, policemen and thousands of others. As the result of the Pittsburgh Courier’s bankruptcy in 1965, Harris lost his pension and he sold control of his negatives for $3,000. He won back control of the negatives after a 1998 trial and the rights were sold to the Carnegie Museum of Art for an undisclosed sum. Harris died June 12, 1998 and in 2012 the museum mounted an exhibition of almost one thousand of his photographs.

 

• July 2, 1925 Patrice Emery Lumumba, Congolese independence leader and the first elected Prime Minister of the Republic of Congo, was born in Kasai province of the Belgian Congo. In 1958, Lumumba helped found the Mouvement National Congolais and later became the organization’s president. When the Congo gained independence from Belgium on June 30, 1960, Lumumba was elected prime minister. Only ten weeks later, his government was deposed in a coup under circumstances suggesting the support and complicity of the Belgium and United States governments. Lumumba was imprisoned and executed on January 17, 1961. Lumumba authored “Congo: My Country” which was published posthumously in 1962. A major transportation artery in Kinshasa is named in his honor as well as streets in many cities throughout the world.

 

• July 2, 1925 Medgar Wiley Evers, civil rights activist, was born in Decatur, Mississippi. In 1943, Evers was inducted into the army and fought in France during World War II. He was honorably discharged in 1945 as a sergeant. Evers earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration from Alcorn College in 1952. Soon after, he moved to Mound Bayou, Mississippi and became involved with the Regional Council of Negro Leadership. In 1954, Evers was appointed Mississippi’s first field secretary for the NAACP. Evers was involved in a boycott campaign against white merchants and was instrumental in the desegregation of the University of Mississippi. A couple of weeks before his death, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the carport of his home and five days before his death he was nearly run down by a car as he emerged from the Jackson, Mississippi NAACP office. Evers was finally assassinated on June 12, 1963. Mourned nationally, Evers was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. Later that year, Evers was posthumously awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. In 1964, Byron De La Beckwith was arrested and twice tried for Evers’ murder. In both trials, all-white juries deadlocked on his guilt. Finally, in 1994 De La Beckwith was convicted of the murder. In 1969, Medgar Evers College was established as part of the City University of New York. In 1983, a made-for-television movie, “For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story”, was aired on PBS. In 1992, the city of Jackson, Mississippi erected a statue in honor of Evers and in 2004 they changed the name of their airport to Jackson-Evers International Airport. The USNS Medgar Evers supply ship was launched by the United States Navy in 2011. “The Autobiography of Medgar Evers: A Hero’s Life and Legacy Revealed Through His Writings, Letters, and Speeches” was published in 2005.

 

• July 2, 1930 Ahmad Jamal, jazz pianist and composer, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Jamal began playing the piano at the age of three and began formal training at seven. He moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1950 and recorded his debut album, “Ahmad’s Blues” in 1951. In 1958, Jamal recorded the album “But Not for Me” which included “Poinciana.” That album stayed on the Ten Best Selling charts for 108 weeks. Other recordings by Jamal include “Crystal” (1987) and “A Quiet Time” (2009). In 1994, Jamal was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor in jazz, by the National Endowment for the Arts. That same year, he was named a Duke Ellington Fellow at Yale University. In 2007, he was inducted into the Order of the Arts and Letters by the French government and received the Living Legends Award from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

 

• July 2, 1939 Paul Williams, singer, choreographer, and one of the founding members of The Temptations, was born in Birmingham, Alabama. As teenagers, Williams, Eddie Kendricks, and two other friends formed a singing group called The Cavaliers. In 1957, Williams, Kendricks and one other member moved to Detroit and changed their name to The Primes. Although they never recorded, they were successful performers and launched a female group called the Primettes who later became The Supremes. In 1960, The Primes disbanded and Williams and Kendricks joined The Elgins who in 1961 signed with Motown Records and changed their name to The Temptations. Williams was the original lead singer in the group, singing lead on such hits as “I Want a Love I Can See” (1963) and “Don’t Look Back” (1965). He also was the group’s original choreographer, devising routines for his group and The Supremes. In 1971, Williams was forced to leave the group due to health problems and on August 17, 1973 he was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. As a member of The Temptations, Williams was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999.

 

• July 2, 1946 Anthony Overton, the first African American to lead a major business conglomerate, died. Overton was born enslaved on March 21, 1865 in Monroe, Louisiana. After the Civil War, his family moved to Kansas and in 1888 Overton earned his Bachelor of Laws degree from Washburn College. After admission to the bar, Overton practiced for a few years and served as a judge for a year. In 1898, he founded the Overton Hygienic Manufacturing Company to create cosmetics specifically for the complexions of black women. He patented his cosmetics and a line of perfume under the name High Brown. By the time he moved his company to Chicago, Illinois in 1911, he employed a salaried sales force as well as 400 door to door sales people. By 1915, he was manufacturing 62 products and in 1927 the company was valued at more than $1 million. In 1916, Overton founded The Half-Century, a magazine that enjoyed success until he phased it out in 1925. In 1922, Overton founded the Douglass National Bank, the second nationally chartered black-owned bank in the United States, and the next year he founded the Victory Life Insurance Company which by 1925 had branches in eight states. Overton also founded the Chicago Bee newspaper, which had a national following into the 1940s, and built the Overton Hygienic/Douglass National Bank Building. In 1927, the NAACP awarded Overton the Spingarn Medal for outstanding achievement by an African American. In the early 1930s, the Depression caused much of Overton’s business to fail, however he was able to live out the remainder of his life in financial comfort. Anthony Overton Elementary School in Chicago is named in his honor.

 

• July 2, 1964 The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The act outlawed unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace, and by facilities that served the general public. It invalidated many of the Jim Crow laws in the south. Initial powers of enforcement were weak, but they were strengthened in later years. Books that chronicle the times leading up to the passage and the politics involved include “To End All Segregation: The Politics of the Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964” (1990) and “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: The Passage of the Law That Ended Racial Segregation” (1997).

 

• July 2, 1965 Austin Thomas Walden, attorney and civil rights leader, died. Walden was born April 12, 1885 in Fort Valley, Georgia. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Fort Valley Industrial School in 1902, his Master of Arts degree from Atlanta University in 1907, and his Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1911. He served in the United States Army from 1917 to 1918 during World War I where he commanded Company I of the 365th Infantry in France and was a trial judge advocate. In 1948, Walden founded and served as president of the Gate City Bar Association for African American lawyers in Atlanta. Walden litigated cases that helped equalize pay for black teachers in Georgia and won lawsuits to desegregate the Atlanta Public School System and the University of Georgia. He also served as president of the Atlanta branch of the NAACP, vice president of the national organization, and a member of the national legal committee. Walden was a delegate to the 1964 Democratic National Convention, the first year that blacks were included in the Georgia delegation. Also that year, he was appointed judge of the Atlanta Municipal Court, making him the first Black judge in Georgia since the Reconstruction Period.

 

• July 2, 1972 The National Black Network began operation as the first coast-to-coast radio network totally owned by African Americans. The network was put together by Eugene D. Jackson, Sydney L. Small, and Del Raycee. It started with 25 affiliates and aired 5 minute newscasts at the hour and sportscasts several times a day at the half hour. By the early 1980s, NBN offered a second news service, American Urban Information Radio, which concentrated on in-depth reporting. In the early 1990s, NBN merged with the Sheridan Broadcasting Network to form the American Urban Radio Network. The AURN is one of the largest networks reaching Urban America with more than 300 weekly shows and an estimated 25 million listeners.

 

• July 2, 2002 Raymond Mathew Brown, jazz double bassist, died. Brown was born October 13, 1926 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At the age of eight, he started piano lessons, but in high school switched to the bass. After graduating from high school, he moved to New York City and in 1946 joined Dizzy Gillespie’s band. He played with Gillespie until 1951 when he joined the Oscar Peterson Trio with which he played until 1966. In 1966, he moved to Los Angeles, California where he worked for various television show orchestras and accompanied some of the leading artist of the day, including Frank Sinatra, Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan, and Nancy Wilson. It was during this time that he won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Composition for his composition “Gravy Waltz” which later became the theme music for “The Steve Allen Show.” During the 1980s and 1990s, Brown led his own trio and he continued to play until his death. In 1995, Brown was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor in jazz, by the National Endowment for the Arts and in 2003 he was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame.

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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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