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Today in Black History, 8/11/2012

• August 11, 1777 Free Frank McWorter, the first African American to incorporate a municipality in the United States, was born enslaved in South Carolina. In 1795, McWorter’s owner moved to Kentucky and took him along to build and manage his holdings and to lease him out to work for others. McWorter used his earnings to create a successful saltpeter production operation. By 1817, he had earned enough to buy the freedom of his wife and two years later he bought his own freedom. In 1830, McWorter and his family moved to Pike County, Illinois and in 1836 he founded the town of New Philadelphia, Illinois. By the time of his death on September 7, 1854, McWorter had bought the freedom of 16 members of his family. McWorter’s gravesite is listed on the National Registry of Historical Places and a portion of I-72 in Pike County is designated the Frank McWorter Memorial Highway. The New Philadelphia town site was listed on the National Registry of Historical Places in 2005 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 2009. McWorter’s biography, “Free Frank: A Black Pioneer on the Antebellum Frontier,” was published in 1983.

• August 11, 1873 John Rosamond Johnson, composer, singer and editor, was born in Jacksonville, Florida. Johnson is best known for composing The Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” His brother, the poet James Weldon Johnson, wrote the lyrics. Johnson began his career as a public school teacher in his hometown. He trained at the New England Conservatory and then studied in London, England. With his brother and Bob Cole, he produced two successful Broadway operettas with casts of black actors, “Shoo-Fly Regiment of 1906” and “The Red Moon of 1908.” He also served as director of New York’s Music School Settlement for Colored from 1914 to 1919. With his own ensembles, The Harlem Rounders and The Inimitable Five, Johnson toured and performed in Negro spiritual concerts. He also served as musical director for “Blackbirds of 1936.” Johnson edited “The Book of American Negro Spirituals” (1925), “The Second Book of Negro Spirituals” (1926), “Shoutsongs” (1936), and “Rolling Along in Song” (1937). Johnson died November 11, 1954.

• August 11, 1921 Alexander Murray Palmer Haley, author, was born in Ithaca, New York. In 1939, Haley enlisted in the military and began a 20 year career with the Coast Guard where he rose to the rank of chief petty officer. After his retirement from the Coast Guard, Haley began his writing career and eventually became a senior editor for Readers Digest. During the 1960s, Haley was responsible for some of Playboy magazine’s most notable interviews, including interviews with Miles Davis, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Muhammad Ali. In 1965, he published his first book, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” In 1998, Time magazine named that book one of the ten most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century. In 1976, Haley published “Roots: The Saga of an American Family” which was eventually published in 37 languages and won a special award from the Pulitzer Board and the National Book Award. The next year, it was adapted into a record-breaking television mini-series. Haley was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 1977 and died February 10, 1992. His final book, “Queen: The Story of an American Family,” was published posthumously and in 1993 made into the television miniseries “Alex Haley’s Queen.” In 1999, the United States Coast Guard named the cutter Alex Haley in his honor. Also the main gallery at the Coast Guard Training Base at Petaluma, California is named Haley Hall.

• August 11, 1921 Stan Wright, hall of fame track and field coach, was born in Englewood, New Jersey. Wright earned his bachelor’s degree from Springfield College and his master’s degree in education from Columbia University. In 1950, he began his coaching career at Texas Southern University. The TSU “Flying Tigers” became nationally known for their success at major track meets. From 1967 to 1969, Wright served as head coach at Western Illinois University and from 1969 to 1979 he held the same position at Sacramento State University. He also served as athletic director at Fairleigh Dickinson University from 1979 to 1985. At the request of the United States State Department, Wright coached the Singapore track team at the 1962 Asian Games and Malaysia at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. In 1966, he became the first black head coach of a U.S. national track team. In 1968 and 1972, he was assistant coach in charge of sprinters for the U.S. Olympic team. Wright also served as chairman of The Athletic Congress Budget and Finance Committee from 1980 to 1989 and treasurer from 1989 to 1992. Wright was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1993 and died November 6, 1998. His biography, “Stan Wright, Track Coach: Forty Years in the Good Old Boy Network-The Story of an African American Pioneer,” was published in 2005.

• August 11, 1925 Carl Thomas Rowan, journalist, author and diplomat, was born in McMinnville, Tennessee. Rowan was one of the first African Americans to serve as a commissioned officer in the United States Navy. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics from Oberlin College in 1947 and his Master of Arts degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota in 1948. He worked for the Minneapolis Tribune from 1948 to 1961, reporting extensively on the Civil Rights Movement. In 1962, Rowan served as a delegate to the United Nations during the Cuban Missile Crisis and in 1963 became U.S. Ambassador to Finland. In 1964, Rowan was appointed director of the United States Information Agency where he became the first African American to attend meetings of the National Security Council. From 1966 to 1998, Rowan wrote a syndicated column for the Chicago Sun-Times. His columns were published in more than 100 newspapers across the nation. He is the only journalist in history to win the Sigma Delta Chi medallion for journalistic excellence three years in a row. Rowan was the 1997 recipient of the NAACP Spingarn Medal. In 1999, he received the National Press Club Fourth Estate Award for lifetime achievement. In 1987, Rowan founded Project Excellence which was a college scholarship program for black high school seniors who displayed outstanding writing and speaking skills. By 2000, the program had given out $26 million in scholarships to over 1,100 students. Rowan died September 23, 2000. In 2001, the press briefing room at the U.S. State Department was dedicated as the Carl T. Rowan Briefing Room in his honor. Rowan published his autobiography, “Breaking Barriers: A Memoir,” in 1991. Other books by him include “South of Freedom” (1952), “Just Between Us Blacks” (1974), and “The Coming Race War in America: A Wake-Up Call” (1996).

• August 11, 1929 The first Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic was held in Chicago, Illinois “as a celebration of the unity in diversity for the children of Chicago.” The parade and picnic is held annually on the second Saturday in August and has grown into the oldest and largest African American parade in the United States. It is held on the South Side of Chicago and concludes in Washington Park. Since 2003, parade sponsors have raised $1.2 million in college scholarship funds for 59 local youth. Celebrities that have participated in the parade include Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Oprah Winfrey, and Michael Jordan. In 2006 and 2007, then United States Senator Barack Obama served as the Grand Marshal.

• August 11, 1962 William Warrick Cardozo, physician and pioneer researcher of sickle cell anemia, died. Cardozo was born April 6, 1905 in Washington, D.C. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1929 and Doctor of Medicine degree in 1933 from Ohio State University. In 1935, he was awarded a two-year fellowship in pediatrics at Children’s Memorial Hospital and Provident Hospital in Chicago, Illinois where he began his research on sickle cell. Cardozo concluded that the disease was largely familial and inherited and found almost exclusively amongst people of African descent. He further concluded that not all people with sickle cell were anemic and that the disease was not always fatal. In addition, Cardozo published research on children’s gastrointestinal disorders, Hodgkin’s disease, and the early growth and development of black children. He also served as medical director for the District of Columbia Board of Health for 24 years.

• August 11, 1965 Viola Davis, stage and film actress, was born in St. Matthews, South Carolina. Davis graduated from Rhode Island College with a major in theatre in 1988. She also attended the Juilliard School for the Performing Arts from 1990 to 1994. Davis won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play for her role in “King Hedley II” (2001) and the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for “Fences” (2010). She has also appeared in the movies “Traffic” (2000), “Antwone Fisher” (2002), “Doubt” (2008), for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, and “The Help” (2011), for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. In 2002, Davis was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Rhode Island College.

• Mamie Phipps Clark, the first African American woman to earn a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University, died. Clark was born April 18, 1971 in Hot Springs, Arkansas. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude and her Master of Arts degree in psychology from Howard University in 1938 and 1939, respectively. Her master’s thesis “The Development of Consciousness of Self in Negro Pre-School Children,” was the beginning of a line of research that became historic when it was used in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case to make racial segregation unconstitutional in American public schools. Her thesis concluded that children became aware of their blackness very early in their childhood. Clark earned her Ph.D. in psychology in 1943, making her the second black person, after her husband Kenneth, to earn a Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia. In 1946, Clark and her husband founded The Northside Center for Child Development in Harlem, New York with her as director. It was one of the first agencies to provide comprehensive psychological services to the poor, blacks, and other minority children. Clark served as director until her retirement in 1979. She also served on the boards of numerous other educational and philanthropic institutions. “Children, Race, and Power: Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s Northside Center” was published in 2000.

• August 11, 2009 Margaret Bush Wilson, lawyer and activist, died. Wilson was born January 30, 1919 in St. Louis Missouri. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in economics from Talladega College in 1939 and her law degree from the Lincoln University of Missouri School of Law. After passing the bar, Wilson was the second woman of color admitted to practice in Missouri. Wilson served as consul to the Black Real Estate Brokers Association and was instrumental in the 1948 Shelley v. Kraemer Supreme Court ruling that held housing covenants unconstitutional. In 1962, Wilson became president of the Missouri NAACP and in 1975 she became chair of the NAACP National Board of Directors, the first woman to hold that position. She served nine terms in that capacity. She was also board chair of St. Augustine’s College and Talladega College.

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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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