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Today in Black History, 7/31/2012

• July 31, 1916 Warren Q. Marr II, co-founder of the Amistad Research Center, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Marr studied journalism and printing at Wilberforce University. After graduating, Marr worked for The Plaindealer newspaper in Kansas City, Kansas from 1939 to 1942, rising to the position of assistant editor. In 1968, Marr joined the staff of the NAACP and from 1974 to 1980 served as editor of the Crisis magazine. In 1966, Marr co-founded the Amistad Research Center as a repository for African American papers and other artifacts. The center currently houses more than 10 million items. In 1991, Marr helped found Amistad Affiliates, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the creation of a replica of the schooner La Amistad as a floating museum and educational center. After years of construction, the ship has sailed to ports around the world promoting peace and goodwill. Marr died April 20, 2010.

• July 31, 1918 Henry “Hank” Jones, hall of fame jazz pianist, bandleader, and composer, was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi but raised in Pontiac, Michigan. Jones studied piano at an early age and by 13 was performing in Michigan and Ohio. In 1944, he moved to New York City and from 1948 to 1953 was accompanist for Ella Fitzgerald. From 1959 to 1975, Jones was staff pianist for CBS studio which included backing guests like Frank Sinatra on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Jones recorded prolifically as an unaccompanied soloist, in duos with other pianist, and with various small ensembles. His recordings include “Bop Redux” (1977), “I Remember You” (1977), “Steal Away” (1995), and “Round Midnight” (2006). In 1989, he was designated a NEA Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest honor the United States bestows upon jazz musicians, and in 2003 he received the Jazz Living Legend Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers. In 2008, Jones was presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President George W. Bush and in 2009 he was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. Jones was nominated for five Grammy Awards and in 2009 received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Jones died May 16, 2010.

• July 31, 1921 Whitney Moore Young, Jr., civil rights leader, was born in Lincoln Ridge, Kentucky. Young earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Kentucky State University in 1941 and his Master of Arts degree in social work from the University of Minnesota in 1947. Young served in the United States Army from 1942 to 1945, rising to the rank of first sergeant. In 1961, Young became executive director of the National Urban League where he served until 1971. During that time, he worked to end employment discrimination in the United States and turned the National Urban League from a relatively passive civil rights organization into one that aggressively fought for equitable access to socioeconomic opportunity for the historically disenfranchised. He also expanded the organization from 38 employees to 1,600 and the annual budget from $325,000 to $6,100,000. Young also served as the president of the National Association of Social Workers from 1969 to 1971. In 1969, President Lyndon B. Johnson honored Young with the country’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. On March 11, 1971, Young drowned while swimming in Lagos, Nigeria. Hundreds of schools and other sites are named for Young. In addition, Clark Atlanta University named its School of Social Work in his honor, the Boy Scouts of America created the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Service Award, and Young’s birthplace is designated a National Historic Landmark. Young authored “To Be Equal” in 1964 and “Beyond Racism: Building an Open Society” in 1969. His biography, “Whitney M. Young, Jr. and the Struggle for Civil Rights,” was published in 1989.

• July 31, 1931 Kenneth Earl Burrell, jazz guitarist, was born in Detroit, Michigan. Burrell began playing guitar at the age of 12 and while still a student at Wayne State University made his debut recording as a member of Dizzy Gillespie’s sextet in 1954. In 1955, he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in music composition and theory from Wayne and the next year moved to New York City. Burrell has recorded about 40 albums as leader, including “Midnight Blue” (1967), “Soft Winds” (1993), “Lotus Blossom” (1995), “Lucky So and So” (2001), and “Be Yourself: Live at Dizzy’s” (2010). In 2005, Burrell was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the United States bestows upon jazz musicians, by the National Endowment for the Arts. Besides continuing to perform, Burrell is the founder and director of the jazz studies program at the University of California, Los Angeles as well as president emeritus of the Jazz Heritage Foundation.

• July 31, 1954 Flora Jean “Flo” Hyman, hall of fame volleyball player, was born in Inglewood, California. By age 17, Hyman was 6 feet 5 inches in height. She attended the University of Houston as that school’s first female scholarship athlete and was a three-time All-American volleyball selection. In 1984, Hyman was a member of the United States volleyball team that won the Silver medal at the Los Angeles Olympic Games. Hyman was the most famous volleyball player of her time with a spike that traveled up to 110 miles per hour. She died January 24, 1986 while playing in Japan from an aortic dissection resulting from previously undiagnosed Marfan Syndrome. In 1987, the Women’s Sports Foundation established the annual Flo Hyman Award which is given “to a female athlete who captures Hyman’s dignity, spirit and commitment to excellence” and in 1988 she was posthumously inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame.

• July 31, 1956 Deval Laurdine Patrick, the first African American Governor of Massachusetts, was born in the Robert Taylor Homes housing projects in Chicago, Illinois. Patrick earned his Bachelor of Science degree in English and American literature from Harvard College cum laude in 1978 and his Juris Doctorate degree with honors from Harvard Law School in 1982. From 1984 to 1986, he worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and from 1986 to 1994 he was in private practice. From 1994 to 1997, he served as assistant attorney general in charge of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division where he worked on issues including racial profiling, fair lending enforcement, and discrimination based on gender and disability. In 1997, Patrick was appointed chairman of Texaco Corporation’s Equality and Fairness Task Force to oversee implementation of the terms of a race discrimination settlement at Texaco. After serving in that capacity for two years, he was appointed vice president and general counsel for the company. From 2000 to 2004, he worked as executive vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary for the Coca Cola Company. In 2006, Patrick was elected Governor of Massachusetts and was re-elected in 2010. Patrick published his autobiography, “A Reason to Believe: Lessons from an Improbable Life,” in 2011.

• July 31, 1966 Earl Rudolph “Bud” Powell, hall of fame jazz pianist, died. Powell was born September 27, 1924 in New York City. At an early age, Powell learned classical piano but by the age of eight became interested in jazz and by 15 was playing in his brother’s band. His debut recording was with Cootie Williams’ band in 1944. In 1947, he made his debut recording as a leader with the album “Bud Powell Trio.” Other albums by Powell include “The Amazing Bud Powell” (1951), “Blues in the Closet” (1956), and “Bud Powell in Paris” (1963). Many people referred to Powell as “the Charlie Parker of the piano.” Powell suffered from mental illness throughout his later life. In 1966, he was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. Powell’s biography, “Dance of the Infidels: A Portrait of Bud Powell,” was published in 1986 and was the basis for the movie “Round Midnight” (1986).

• July 31, 1986 Theodore Shaw “Teddy” Wilson, hall of fame jazz pianist, died. Wilson was born November 24, 1912 in Austin, Texas but raised in Tuskegee, Alabama. He studied piano and violin at Tuskegee Institute. In 1935, Wilson joined the Benny Goodman Trio, becoming the first black musician to perform in public with a previously all-white group. Wilson recorded 50 hit records with various singers, including Lena Horne and Billie Holliday. His albums include “I Got Rhythm” (1956), “Pres and Teddy” (1956), and “With Billie in Mind” (1972). Wilson was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the United States bestows upon jazz musicians, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1986 and was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1987. He is considered one of the most influential jazz pianists of his time.

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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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