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Today in Black History, 7/25/2012

• July 25, 1824 George Boyer Vashon, the first African American graduate of Oberlin College, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At an early age, Vashon displayed an aptitude for languages, speaking Sanskrit, Hebrew, and Persian, and being well versed in Greek and Latin. In 1844, Vashon earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Oberlin and was valedictorian of his class. In his speech titled “Liberty of Mind” he stated, “genius, talent, and learning are not withheld by our common Father from people of color.” In 1846, Vashon applied for admission to the Allegheny County bar, but his application was rejected because of his race. He therefore moved to New York State and successfully completed their bar examination in 1848, becoming the first black lawyer in New York. In 1849, Vashon moved to Port-au-Prince, Haiti where he served as a professor of Latin, Greek, and English. In 1851, he returned to the United States and joined the faculty of the predominately white New York Central College. While there, he wrote “Vincent Oge” (1854), an epic poem on the Haitian insurrection. In 1863, Vashon became the second black president of Avery College. He later became a professor of mathematics and ancient and modern languages at Alcorn College where he served until his death on October 5, 1878.

• July 25, 1906 John Cornelius “Johnny” Hodges, hall of fame jazz alto saxophonist, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Hodges was mostly self-taught. He is best known for his solo work with Duke Ellington’s big band, being prominently featured on recordings such as “Confab with Rab,” “Jeep’s Blues,” and “Hodge Podge.” Hodges played with Ellington from 1928 to 1950 when he left to lead his own band. Recordings with Hodges as lead include “Castle Rock” (1951), “Blues-A- Plenty” (1958), and “Triple Play” (1967). Hodges died May 11, 1970 and Ellington stated in his eulogy that Hodges had “a tone so beautiful it sometimes brought tears to the eye.” Hodges was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1970.

• July 25, 1914 Woodrow Wilson Woolwine “Woody” Strode, athlete and film actor, was born in Los Angeles, California. Strode attended the University of California where he was a world class decathlete and a star on the football team. Strode was one of the first African Americans to play in the National Football League, playing for the Los Angeles Rams in 1946. Strode made his big screen debut in 1941 in “Sundown,” but is best remembered for his performances in the 1960 films, “Spartacus” and “Sergeant Rutledge.” He remained a visible character actor throughout the 1970s and 1980s. His last film was “The Quick and the Dead” (1995) which was released after his death on December 31, 1994.

• July 25, 1941 Nathaniel Thurmond, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Akron, Ohio. Thurmond played college basketball at Bowling Green State University where he was a first-team All-American in 1963. He was selected by the San Francisco Warriors in the 1963 NBA Draft. Over his 15 season professional career, Thurmond was a seven-time All-Star. In 1974, he became the first player in NBA history to officially record a quadruple double in a game with 22 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists, and 12 blocked shots. He also still holds the regular season record for most rebounds in a quarter with 18. Thurmond’s jersey number 42 was retired by the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. In 1985, Thurmond was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and in 1996 he was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. In 2006, Thurmond was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. He works in the front office of the Warriors and owns a restaurant.

• July 25, 1941 Emmett Louis “Bobo” Till was born in Chicago, Illinois. On August 21, 1955, Till traveled to Money, Mississippi to stay at the home of his uncle for a short period of time. On August 24, he joined several other African American teenagers at Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market for candy and sodas. Till allegedly whistled at Carolyn Bryant who was white and working at the store. When Bryant’s husband, Ray, returned from a trip on August 28 and was told of the alleged incident, he and his half-brother, J. W. Milam, kidnapped Till from his uncle’s house. Till’s body was found swollen and disfigured in the Tallahatchie River three days later. On September 23, 1955, Bryant and Milam were acquitted of murder by an all-white jury after 67 minutes of deliberation. In January, 1956, Look Magazine published an interview in which Bryant and Milam admitted that they had murdered Till. In 1991, a seven mile stretch of 71st street in Chicago was renamed Emmett Till Memorial Highway and in 2005 the school that Till attended was renamed Emmett Louis Till Math and Science Academy. Several books have been published about the murder of Till, including “A Death in the Delta: The Story of Emmett Till” (1988) and “Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime that Changed America” (2003).

• July 25, 1943 The USS Leonard Roy Harmon became the first Navy fighting ship to be named after an African American. Leonard Roy Harmon was born January 21, 1917 in Cuero, Texas. He joined the United States Navy in 1939 and was a mess attendant first class assigned to the USS San Francisco. On November 13, 1942, the San Francisco was raked by Japanese gunfire that killed nearly every officer on the bridge. Disregarding his own safety, Harmon helped evacuate the wounded. He was killed while shielding a wounded shipmate from gunfire with his own body. For “extraordinary heroism,” he was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. The bachelor enlisted quarters at the United States Naval Air Station in North Island, California was named Harmon Hall in his honor in 1975.

• July 25, 1954 Walter Payton, hall of fame football player, was born in Columbia, Mississippi. Payton played college football at Jackson State University where he was an All-American in 1973 and 1974 and Black College Player of the Year in 1974. Payton earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in communications in 1975. Payton was selected by the Chicago Bears in the 1975 NFL Draft. Over his 13 season NFL career, he was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and in 1977 was the NFL Most Valuable Player. When he retired in 1987, Payton held the league’s record for most career rushing yards, touchdown carries, and many other categories. Payton was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996. Payton died November 1, 1999. The Walter & Connie Payton Foundation was established to “help abused, neglected, and underprivileged children in the state of Illinois.” The Walter Payton Recreation and Wellness Center is located on the campus of Jackson State. Payton’s autobiography, “Sweetness,” was published in 1978.

• July 25, 1955 Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid, super model, actress, and entrepreneur, was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. Iman attended high school in Egypt and later lived in Kenya where she studied political science at Nairobi University. She is fluent in five languages, Somali, Arabic, Italian, French, and English. Iman moved to the United States in 1975 and her first modeling assignment was for Vogue Magazine in 1976. Over her 14 year modeling career, Iman modeled the fashions of many prominent designers, including Halston, Gianni Versace, Calvin Klein, and Yves Saint-Laurent. An occasional actress, Iman has appeared in several movies, including “Back in the World” (1985), “No Way Out” (1987), and “Love at First Sight” (1988). In 1994, Iman started her own cosmetics business focused on difficult to find shades for ethnic women. That is now a $25 million a year business. In 2007, she started a clothing design line called Global Chic which is one of the best selling items on the Home Shopping Network. She is also actively involved in a number of charitable endeavors, including the Keep a Child Alive program and the Children’s Defense Fund. In 2010, Iman received the Fashion Icon Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, as “an individual whose signature style has had a profound influence on fashion.”

• July 25, 1980 Euphemia Lofton Haynes, the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics, died. Haynes was born Martha Euphemia Lofton on September 11, 1890 in Washington, D.C. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Smith College in 1914 and her Master of Arts degree in education from the University of Chicago in 1930. In 1943, Haynes earned her Ph.D. in mathematics from Catholic University. Haynes taught in the D.C. public school system for 47 years and after her retirement in 1959 became the first woman to chair the city’s Board of Education. In that capacity, she was central to the integration of the D.C. public school system. Haynes was also active in many community activities, including the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, the National Social Welfare Assembly, and the Catholic Interracial Council. In 1959, Haynes received the Papal Medal for her service to the Catholic Church and her community. Upon her death, Haynes bequeathed $700,000 to Catholic University to support a professorial chair and student loan fund in the School of Education.

• July 25, 1984 Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, hall of fame R&B singer and songwriter, died. Thornton was born December 11, 1926 in Ariton, Alabama. She began singing at an early age and at the age of 14 joined the Hot Harlem Revue and performed with them for seven years. Thornton began her recording career in 1951 and the next year recorded the hit song “Hound Dog.” She was the first to record the song and it was number one on the R&B charts for 7 weeks and sold almost 2 million copies. Other albums released by Thornton include “Big Mama Thornton with the Muddy Waters Blues Band” (1966), “Ball ‘n’ Chain” (1968), and “Jail” (1975). Over her career, Thornton wrote more than 20 blues songs. In 1984, she was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

• July 25, 2006 Carl Maxie Brashear, the first African American to become a United States Navy master diver, died. Brashear was born January 19, 1931 in Tonieville, Kentucky. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1948. He graduated from the Navy Diving & Salvage School in 1954, becoming the first African American navy diver. In 1966, while involved in the recovery of an Air Force bomb, Brashear was involved in an accident that resulted in the amputation of the lower portion of his leg. In 1968, after a long struggle, Brashear became the first amputee to be certified as a diver and in 1970 he became the first African American master diver. Brashear served in that capacity until his retirement from the navy in 1979 as a master chief petty officer. In 2000, “Men of Honor,” a movie inspired by Brashear’s life, was released. The USNS Carl Brashear was christened in his honor in 2008 and in 2009 “Dream to Dive: The Life of Master Diver Carl Brashear,” an exhibition dedicated to him opened at the Nauticus Museum.

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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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