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Today in Black History, 7/9/2012

• July 9, 1793 The Act Against Slavery was passed by Upper Canada, that part of Canada that would eventually become Ontario, to prohibit the continuation of slavery. It was the first attempt to abolish slavery in the British Empire. The Act did not immediately abolish slavery, but ensured the eventual elimination. The Act stated that all enslave people in the province would remain enslaved until death, that no new enslaved people could be brought into Upper Canada, and that children born to enslaved females would be freed at age 25. It further stated that any children born to this second generation while they were still enslaved would be free from birth. The Act remained in force until 1833 when the British Slavery Abolition Act abolished slavery in most parts of the British Empire.

 

• July 9, 1868 The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted. The amendment provided a broad definition of citizenship, overruling the decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford which held that blacks could not be citizens of the United States. The amendment’s Equal Protection Clause required states to provide equal protection under the law to all people within their jurisdictions. Despite this clause, the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson ruled that the states could impose segregation as long as they provided similar facilities, the basis for the “separate but equal” doctrine.

 

• July 9, 1895 John Lee Love of Fall River, Massachusetts received patent number 542,419 for an improved plaster’s hawk. A plaster’s hawk is a flat square piece of board made of wood or metal, upon which plaster or mortar is placed and then spread by plasterers or masons. Love designed one that was more portable with a detachable handle and foldable board made of aluminum. Love also received patent number 594,114 on November 23, 1897 for a pencil sharpener that used a crank to shave off thin slices of wood from the pencil until a point was formed. The shavings from the wood would stay inside the sharpener. Not much is known of Love’s life except that he died December 26, 1931.

 

• July 9, 1897 Augustine John Tolton, the first black Roman Catholic priest in the United States, died. Tolton was born enslaved on April 1, 1854 in Ralls County, Missouri. During the Civil War, the Tolton family escaped to Quincy, Illinois. There Tolton was tutored by several priests. He later graduated from Quincy College and attended Pontifical Urbaniana University. Tolton was ordained to the priesthood in Rome in 1886 and directed to return to the United States to serve the black community. He organized St. Joseph Catholic Church and School in Quincy. After reassignment to Chicago, Illinois, Tolton led the development and administration of the Negro “national parish” of St. Monica’s Catholic Church which he grew to 600 parishioners. This earned him national attention and he was known for his “eloquent sermons, beautiful singing voice and his talent for playing the accordion.” HIs biography, “From Slave to Priest: A Biography of the Reverend Augustine Tolton (1854-1897),” was published in 1973. The Father Augustine Tolton Regional Catholic High School in Columbia, Missouri is named in his honor. In 2011, the Roman Catholic Church officially began the formal introduction of the cause for sainthood of Tolton.

 

• July 9, 1901 Jester Joseph Hairston, songwriter, choral conductor, and film and television actor, was born in Belews Creek, North Carolina. Hairston graduated cum laude from Tufts University in 1928 and studied music at the Juilliard School. In the early stages of his career, he worked as a choir conductor. In 1956, Hairston wrote the Christmas song “Mary’s Boy Child.” He also wrote the song “Amen” which he dubbed for the film “Lilies of the Field” (1963). Hairston appeared in over 20 films, including “St. Louis Blues” (1958), “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962), and “Being John Malkovich” (1999). He also appeared on the television shows “That’s My Mama,” from 1974 to 1975, and “Amen,” from 1986 to 1991. In his later years, Hairston served as a cultural ambassador for American music, traveling to numerous countries with choral groups that he had assembled. Hairston was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contribution to the television industry in 1992 and died January 18, 2000.

 

• July 9, 1936 June Millicent Jordan, poet, novelist, teacher, and activist, was born in Harlem, New York. Jordan began writing poetry at the age of seven. Her first book, “Who Look at Me,” a collection of poems for children was published in 1969. In total, Jordan published 29 books, including “Things That I Do in the Dark” (1977), “On Call: New Political Essays: 1981-1985” (1986), and “Touchstone” (1995). Shortly before her death, Jordan completed “Some of Us Did Not Die,” a collection of political essays, which was published posthumously in 2003. She also wrote the libretto for the 1995 musical opera “I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky.” In 2000, she published her memoir, “Soldier: A Poet’s Childhood.” Jordan’s teaching career began in 1967 at City College of New York and she subsequently taught at Yale University, Sarah Lawrence College, Connecticut College, the State University of New York, and the University of California. Jordan received numerous honors and awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 1982, the Ground Breakers-Dream Makers Award from the Women’s Foundation in 1994, and the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Writers Award from 1995 to 1998. Jordan died June 14, 2002.

 

• July 9, 1948 James Baskett, actor and the first male performer of African descent to receive an Oscar, died. Baskett was born February 16, 1904 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He appeared on Broadway in the all-black musical revue “Hot Chocolate” in 1929. He also appeared in a number of all-black films, including “Harlem is Heaven” (1932) and “Straight to Heaven” (1939). From 1944 to 1948, he was part of the cast of the “Amos ‘n’ Andy” radio show. In 1946, he appeared in the lead role of Uncle Remus in “Song of the South,” but was unable to attend the premiere in Atlanta, Georgia because of the city’s racial segregation laws. In 1947, Baskett received an honorary Academy Award for his performance as Uncle Remus for his “able and heartwarming characterization of Uncle Remus, friend and storyteller to the children of the world.”

 

• July 9, 1956 Asha-Rose Mtengeti Migiro, the first African woman to serve as the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, was born in Songea, Tanzania. Migiro earned her Master of Laws degree in 1984 from the University of Dar es Salaam and her Ph.D. in law from the University of Konstanz in Germany. She headed the Department of Constitution and Administrative Law from 1992 to 1994 and the Department of Civil and Criminal Law from 1994 to 1997. From 2000 to 2006, she served as the Minister of Community Development, Gender and Children’s Affairs. In 2006, Migiro was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs, the first woman to hold that position since Tanzania’s independence. On January 5, 2007, Migiro was appointed Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.

 

• July 9, 1966 George “Mule” Suttles, hall of fame Negro League baseball player, died. Suttles was born March 31, 1900 in Blocton, Alabama. He worked in the coal mines of Louisiana before breaking into the Negro National League in 1923 and over his career batted .327 with 133 home runs, the second most in Negro league history. Suttles played in five East-West All-Star games and was one of the most feared sluggers in Negro league history. After retiring as a player, he was an umpire in the Negro leagues. Suttles was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

 

• July 9, 1999 James L. Farmer, Jr., civil rights activist, died. Farmer was born January 12, 1920 in Marshall, Texas. He was a child prodigy and at the age of 14 was attending Wiley College and participating on the debate team that was portrayed in the 2007 film “The Great Debaters.” Farmer earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Wiley in 1938 and his Bachelor of Divinity degree from the Howard University School of Religion in 1941. In 1942, Farmer co-founded the Committee on Racial Equality, later renamed the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), to bring an end to racial segregation through active nonviolence. He served as the national chairman until 1944. In 1961, he organized the Freedom Rides which eventually led to the desegregation of inter-state busing in the United States. In 1975, Farmer co-founded Fund for an Open Society with a vision of a nation in which people live in stable integrated communities and where political and civic power is shared by people of different races and ethnicities. He led that organization until 1999. In 1985, he published “Lay Bare the Heart: An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement” and in 1998 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President William Clinton.

 

• July 9, 2002 The African Union was formed as a successor to the Organization of African Unity. The AU is an intergovernmental organization made up of 54 African states. Its objectives are to accelerate the political and socio-economic integration of the continent; to promote and defend African common positions on issues of interest to the continent and its peoples; to achieve peace and security in Africa; and to promote democratic institutions, good governance and human rights.

 

• July 9, 2004 Eloise Gwendolyn Isabel Sanford, television and film actress, died. Sanford was born August 29, 1917 in New York City. She made her film debut in the 1967 movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Other films in which she appeared include “Lady Sings the Blues” (1972), “Love at First Bite” (1979), and “Sprung” (1997). Sanford is best known for her role as Louise Jefferson on the television situation comedies “All in the Family” (1971 to 1975) and “The Jeffersons” (1975 to 1985). In 1981, Sanford won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, the first African American to win in that category. She was nominated in that category six additional times. Sanford received an honorary doctorate degree from Emerson College and in 2004 received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contribution to the television industry.

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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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