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Today in Black History, 7/8/2012

• July 8, 1777 The Commonwealth of Vermont abolished slavery in their constitution. The constitution declared that all men are born equally free and independent and that no male over the age of 21 or female over the age of 18 may serve another in the role of servant, slave, or apprentice. When Vermont was admitted to the union in 1791, it carried over that constitution and thus became the first U.S. state to have abolished slavery.


• July 8, 1876 The Hamburg Massacre occurred in Hamburg, South Carolina, a defunct market town across the river from Augusta, Georgia which had been repopulated by freed blacks. Hundreds of armed white men attacked a militia of free black men, killing six and looting the town. The official report on the massacre, published four days later, stated “the facts show the demand on the militia to give up their arms was made by persons without lawful authority to enforce such demand or to receive the arms had they been surrendered; that the attack on the militia to compel a compliance with this demand was without lawful excuse or justification; and that after there had been some twenty or twenty-five prisoners captured and completely in the power of their captors, five of them were deliberately shot to death and three more severely wounded. It further appears that not content with thus satisfying their vengeance, many of the crowd added to their guilt the crime of robbery of defenseless people, and were only prevented from arson by the efforts of their leaders.” Despite the report, nobody was ever convicted for their involvement.


• July 8, 1908 Louis Jordan, pioneering jazz, blues, and R&B musician, songwriter and bandleader, was born in Brinkley, Arkansas. Jordan studied music under his father and during his youth played in his father’s bands. In 1932, Jordan moved to New York City and in 1936 joined the influential Savoy Ballroom orchestra where he played until 1938. Jordan’s first recording was in 1938 and over his career he had at least four million-selling hits, including “G.I. Jive” (1944), “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” (1944), “Caldonia” (1945), and “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” (1946). During the 1940s, Jordon had 18 number one and 54 top ten singles on the “race charts.” His records spent 113 weeks at number one, the most by any black recording artist to this day. Jordon died February 4, 1975. The United States Postal Service featured Jordon and the film “Caldonia” on a postage stamp and the 1992 Broadway show, “Five Guys Named Moe” was devoted to Jordan’s music. Jordan was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1975 and in 2008 the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution honoring Jordan on the centenary of his birth. His biography, “Let the Good Times Roll: The Story of Louis Jordan and His Music,” was published in 1994.


• July 8, 1914 William Clarence “Billy” Eckstine, bandleader and balladeer, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Ecstine began singing at the age of seven and in 1939 joined Earl Hines’ Grand Terrace Orchestra as vocalist and occasional trumpeter. In 1944, Eckstine formed his own band which was the first bop big-band. In 1947, Eckstine went solo and recorded more than a dozen hits during the late 1940s, including “Everything I Have is Yours” (1947), “Blue Moon” (1948), and “Caravan” (1949). He won Esquire Magazine’s New Star Award in 1946, the Down Beat Readers Poll from 1948 to 1952, and the Metronome contests as Top Male Vocalist from 1949 to 1954. Eckstine made his last recording, the Grammy nominated “Billy Eckstine Sings with Benny Carter,” in 1986 and he died March 8, 1993. Eckstine was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 2010.


• July 8, 1923 William Harrison Dillard, the second male to win Olympic Gold medals in both sprinting and hurdling events, was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Shortly after entering Baldwin-Wallace College, Dillard was drafted into the army where he served two years overseas in active combat. Dillard returned to college in 1946 and earned his bachelor’s degree in economics. At the 1948 London Olympic Games, Dillard won Gold medals in the 100-meter race and the 4 by 100-meter relay. At the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games, he won Gold medals in the 110-meter hurdles and the 4 by 100-meter relay. In 1955, Dillard won the Sullivan Award as “the outstanding amateur athlete in the United States.” He was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1974. After retiring from track, Dillard worked for the Cleveland Indians baseball team and hosted a radio talk show.


• July 8, 1924 Johnnie Clyde Johnson, blues piano player, was born in Fairmont, West Virginia. He began playing the piano at age four. Johnson joined the United States Marine Corps during World War II and played in the all serviceman jazz orchestra. He moved to St. Louis, Missouri in 1952 and put together a jazz and blues group that eventually included Chuck Berry. Over the next twenty years, the two collaborated on many of Berry’s songs, including “School Days” (1957), “Carol” (1958), “Johnny B. Goode” (1958), and “Nadine” (1964). Johnson and Berry played and toured together until 1973. In 1987, Johnson recorded his first solo album, “Blue Hand Johnnie,” and in 1999 his autobiography, “Father of Rock and Roll: The Story of Johnnie B. Goode Johnson,” was published. Johnson was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 2000 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. Johnson died April 13, 2005 and the Johnnie Johnson Blues & Jazz Festival is held annually in Fairmont in his memory.


• July 8, 1943 Alyce Faye Wattleton, the first African American and youngest president of Planned Parenthood, was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Wattleton earned her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from Ohio State University in 1964 and her Master of Science degree in maternal and infant care in 1967 from Columbia University. In 1978, she was elected president of Planned Parenthood, a position she held until 1992. In 1986, the American Humanist Association named her Humanist of the Year and in 1993 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. In 1995, Wattleton was a co-founder and served as president of the Center for the Advancement of Women. She has received 14 honorary degrees and currently serves as managing director of a global professional services firm. She also serves on the boards of Columbia University and Jazz at Lincoln Center.


• July 8, 2010 David Harold Blackwell, the first African American inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, died. Blackwell was born April 24, 1919 in Centralia, Illinois. He entered the University of Illinois at the age of 16 and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1938, Master of Arts degree in 1939, and his Ph.D. in mathematics in 1941 at the age of 22. After earning his doctorate, he applied for a position at the University of California, Berkeley, but was turned down because of his race. Therefore, from 1942 to 1954 he taught at Southern University, Clark College, and Howard University where he became the head of the mathematics department at the age of 28. In 1955, Blackwell was hired by the University of California, Berkeley where he became the first black tenured faculty member. In 1979, Blackwell won the von Neumann Theory Prize, awarded annually “to a scholar who has made fundamental, sustained contributions to theory in operations research and the management sciences.” Blackwell published over 90 papers and wrote “Theory of Games and Statistical Decisions” (1954) and the textbook “Basic Statistics” (1969). Blackwell was president of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics in 1955. He also was vice president of the American Statistical Association, the International Statistical Institute, and the American Mathematical Society. In 1965, he was the first African American to become a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

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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.