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Today in Black History, 7/29/2012

• July 29, 1870 George “Little Chocolate” Dixon, hall of fame boxer and the first black and first Canadian-born fighter to win a world boxing championship, was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Dixon’s professional boxing career spanned 1886 to 1906. He won the World Bantamweight Boxing Championship in 1890 and the World Featherweight Boxing Championship in 1891. He held the featherweight title for six years before losing it in 1897. He regained the title in 1898 before losing it for good in 1900. Dixon retired with a record of 64 wins, 29 losses, and 51 draws. He is considered by many to be the greatest fighter of the 19th century. He is also credited with inventing shadow boxing. Dixon died penniless on January 6, 1909. In 1990, Dixon was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. There is a recreation center named in his honor in Downtown Halifax.

• July 29, 1909 Chester Bomar Himes, writer, was born in Jefferson City, Missouri. In 1928, Himes was sent to prison for armed robbery. In prison, he wrote short stories and had them published in national magazines. His first stories were published in Esquire Magazine in 1934. Himes was released from prison in 1936 and in the 1940s began to produce novels. Himes novels encompassed many genres and often explored racism in the United States. His best known works are “If He Hollers Let Him Go” (1945), “The Real Cool Killers” (1959), and “Cotton Comes to Harlem” (1965). “Cotton Comes to Harlem” was made into a movie in 1970 and his “For Love of Imabelle” (1957) was made into the film “A Rage in Harlem” in 1991. In 1958, Himes won France’s Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere, their most prestigious award for crime and detective fiction. In 1969, fleeing oppression, Himes moved to Moraira, Spain where he died on November 12, 1984. Himes produced two autobiographies, “The Quality of Hurt” (1973) and “My Life of Absurdity” (1976).

• July 29, 1916 Charles Henry Christian, hall of fame swing and jazz guitarist, was born in Bonham, Texas, but raised in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. By 1936, Christian was playing electric guitar and had become a regional attraction. In 1939, he was hired by Benny Goodman for the newly formed Goodman sextet. By 1940, Christian dominated the jazz and swing guitar polls and was elected to the Metronome All-Stars. Christian died March 2, 1942. He was the first great soloist on the amplified guitar and many later guitarists were influenced by him, including Les Paul, Kenny Burrell, and Wes Montgomery. In 1966, Christian was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame and in 1990 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2006, Oklahoma City named a street in his honor. Biographies of Christian include “Charlie Christian: Solo Flight-The Story of the Seminal Electric Guitarist” (2002) and “A Biography of Charlie Christian, Jazz Guitar’s King of Swing” (2005).

• July 29, 1962 Tidjane Thiam, the first black person to head a FTSE 100 (the 100 most highly capitalized companies in the United Kingdom) company, was born in Cote d’Ivoire. Thiam spent most of his childhood in Paris, France. In 1984, he received an engineering degree from the École Polytechnique and, in 1986, a degree in civil engineering from the École Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Paris, where he was top of his class. In 1988, he earned his Master of Business Administration degree from INSEAD, an international graduate business school and research institution. In 1994, Thiam was appointed the head of the National Bureau for Technical Studies and Development for the government of Cote d’Ivoire and in 1997 he became president of the National Council on Information Super Highways and national secretary for Human Resources Development. In 1998, he became Minister of Planning and Development where he oversaw the construction of the first privately-financed power plant in Africa. In 2008, Thiam was appointed finance director at Prudential plc and a year later was named Chief Executive Officer. In 2010 and 2011, he was named the most influential black man in the United Kingdom. Thiam is a member of the Africa Progress Panel, an independent authority on Africa to focus world leader’s attention on delivering on their commitments to the continent. He is also a member of the board of the Association of British Insurers and a member of the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum.

• July 29, 1978 Keeth Thomas Smart, the first American to be named the top-ranked fencer internationally, was born in Brooklyn, New York. As a teenager, Smart began taking fencing lessons at the Peter Westbrook Foundation. He attended St. John’s University where he was the NCAA sabre fencing champion in 1997 and 1999 and earned his bachelor’s degree in finance. Smart also won the United States National Sabre Championship in 2002 and 2004. In 2003, he became the first American to gain the sport’s number one international ranking. Smart competed at three Olympic Games, including the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games where he won a Silver medal as a member of the U.S. Sabre team, the first Olympic medal for a U.S. men’s team since 1948. Smart retired in 2008 as the fifth ranked sabre fencer in the world. He earned his Master of Business Administration degree from Columbia University in 2010 and currently works in finance.

• July 29, 2003 Luther Henderson, arranger, composer, orchestrator, and pianist, died. Henderson was born March 14, 1919 in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1942, he earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the Juilliard School of Music. From 1944 to 1946, Henderson served as staff orchestrator for the United States Navy School of Music. He served as orchestrator, or arranger, or musical director, or composer on more than 50 Broadway musicals, including “Funny Girl” (1964), “No No Nanette” (1971), and “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music” (1981). In 1992, Henderson was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Score for “Jelly’s Last Jam” and in 1997 he was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Orchestration for “Play On!” In 2004, Henderson was posthumously designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor bestowed by the United States on a jazz musician, by the National Endowment for the Arts. The Luther Henderson Scholarship Fund provides scholarships to students of color to pursue studies in orchestration, arranging and composition at The Julliard School.

• July 29, 2011 Matthew James Perry, Jr., the first African American from the Deep South appointed to the federal judiciary, died. Perry was born August 3, 1921 in Columbia, South Carolina. After serving in the United States Army from 1943 to 1946, he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1948 and his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1951 from South Carolina State College. Perry served as chief counsel of the NAACP’s South Carolina Conferences of Branches and in that capacity argued hundreds of cases that helped desegregate schools, hospitals, restaurants, and other public places, including the integration of Clemson University in 1963. He also served for 16 years on the NAACP national board. In 1976, Perry was appointed to the United States Military Court of Appeals, the second African American to serve on that court. In 1979, he was appointed to the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, becoming South Carolina’s first African American federal judge. He assumed senior status in 1995. The courthouse in Columbia is named in his honor.

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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.