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Today in Black History, 8/1/2012

• August 1, 1834 The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 became effective, abolishing slavery in the majority of the British Empire. The act freed enslaved people under the age of six. Enslaved people six and older were designated as apprentices and would continue to serve their former owners for up to six additional years before being freed. The Act also included the right of compensation for slave owners who would be losing their property.

• August 1, 1844 Milton Murray Holland, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born enslaved in Austin, Texas. Possibly the son of his owner, Holland and his two brothers were freed and sent to school in Ohio in the late 1850s. In 1863, he joined the 5th United States Colored Troops to fight in the Civil War. By September 29, 1864, he was serving as a sergeant major when his unit participated in the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm in Virginia. His actions during the battle earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration, which was awarded on April 6, 1865. His citation reads “Took command of Company C, after all the officers had been killed or wounded, and gallantly led it.” Despite his bravery and despite his acting as an officer in combat, Holland never received an officer’s commission. Holland left the army in 1865 and moved to Washington, D.C. where he established an insurance company and worked for the government. Holland died May 15, 1910 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

• August 1, 1865 Ulysses Franklin Grant, hall of fame Negro League baseball player, was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Grant played in the integrated professional International League prior to 1887, when blacks were banned from professional baseball. After that, he had a successful 15 year career in the Negro leagues, where he was one of the leading hitters and best fielders. Grant retired from baseball in 1903 and died May 27, 1937. He was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, the earliest Negro league player to receive that honor.

• August 1, 1869 August Nathaniel Lushington, the first person of African descent to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in the United States, was born in Trinidad, British West Indies. Lushington earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Cornell University in 1894 and his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School in 1897. He practiced for much of his career in very segregated Lynchburg, Virginia where he experienced unfair treatment, but eventually earned a reputation as a superior practitioner in the community. Lushington died February 12, 1939. Today a photograph of Lushington welcomes students to the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School.

• August 1, 1874 Charles Clinton Spaulding, businessman, was born in Columbia County, North Carolina. Spaulding graduated from high school at the age of 23. In 1899, he co-founded North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company and was appointed general manager. In 1923, Spaulding was made president of the company. During his tenure, North Carolina Mutual grew to be the largest black-owned business in the United States with assets of $40 million at his death. By 1921, Spaulding had also assumed leadership of the Mechanics and Farmers Bank and the Mutual Building and Loan Association. He was also vice president of the Bankers Fire Insurance Company and the Southern Fidelity Mutual Insurance Company. In all of these capacities, he focused on expansion of home ownership, business growth, and general race uplift. In 1926, Spaulding was awarded the Harmon Foundation Gold Medal for distinguished achievement in business. He received honorary doctorate degrees from Shaw University, Tuskegee Institute, and Atlanta University. Spaulding also served as national chairman of the Urban League’s Emergency Advisory Council from 1930 to 1939, campaigning to secure New Deal jobs for African Americans. Spaulding died August 1, 1952.

• August 1, 1887 Joseph Hayne Rainey, the first African American to be directly elected to Congress, died. Rainey was born enslaved on June 21, 1832 in Georgetown, South Carolina. Shortly after his birth, Rainey’s father bought their family’s freedom. In 1861, Rainey was drafted into the Confederate Army to work on fortifications. After a year, he and his wife were able to escape to Bermuda. In 1866, after the end of the Civil War, Rainey returned to South Carolina and joined the executive committee of the state Republican Party. In 1868, he was a delegate to the convention that wrote the state’s new constitution and in 1870 he was elected to the State Senate. Later that year, Rainey was elected to the United States House of Representatives where he served until 1879. During his terms in Congress, Rainey focused on supporting legislation to protect the civil rights of southern blacks. He also served on the Committee on Indian Affairs and opposed legislation to limit the number of Asian immigrants to the U.S. In April, 1874, he took the chair from the Speaker of the House and became the first African American to preside over the House of Representatives. After leaving Congress, he was appointed Internal Revenue Agent of South Carolina, a position he held for two years. Rainey engaged in banking and the brokerage business in Washington, D.C. until his retirement in 1886. His biography, “Detour – Bermuda, Destination – U.S. House of Representatives: The Life of Joseph Hayne Rainey,” was published in 1977.

• August 1, 1894 Benjamin Elijah Mays, minister, educator, scholar, and social activist, was born in Ninety Six, South Carolina. Mays earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Bates College in 1920 and his Master of Arts degree in 1925 and Ph.D. in the School of Religion in 1935 from the University of Chicago. He was ordained a Baptist minister in 1922. From 1934 to 1940, Mays was dean of the School of Religion at Howard University. In 1940, Mays became the president of Morehouse College where he served as a significant mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other African American men. After his retirement in 1967, Mays was elected president of the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education where he supervised the peaceful desegregation of Atlanta’s public schools. In 1982, Mays was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. Mays died March 28, 1984 and was entombed on the campus of Morehouse College. His autobiography, “Born to Rebel: An Autobiography,” was published in 1971. The Benjamin E. Mays High School in Atlanta is named in his honor. Mays’ name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• August 1, 1911 Jackie Ormes, the first African American female cartoonist, was born Zelda Mavin Jackson in Monongahela, Pennsylvania. Ormes started in journalism as a proofreader for the Pittsburgh Courier. In 1937, her one-panel comic strip “Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem” first appeared in the Courier. Ormes moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1942 and began writing articles and a social column for the Chicago Defender. At the end of World War II, her one-panel cartoon “Candy” appeared in the Defender for a few months. In August, 1945, Ormes returned to the Courier with the cartoon “Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger” which ran for eleven years. In 1947, she contracted to have Patty-Jo dolls produced. It was the first African American doll to have an extensive upscale wardrobe. Today, the dolls are highly sought after collectors’ items. In 1950, she developed a multi-panel comic strip “Torchy in Heartbeats” which ran until 1954. Ormes retired from cartooning in 1956 and devoted the remainder of her life to the Southside Chicago community, including being a founding member of the board of directors of the DuSable Museum of African American History. Ormes died December 26, 1985 and her biography, “Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist,” was published in 2008.

• August 1, 1925 The National Bar Association was formally organized in Des Moines, Iowa. When the NBA was organized there were fewer than 1,000 African American lawyers in the United States. Today, it has 85 affiliate chapters throughout the United States and affiliations in Canada, the United Kingdom, Africa, and the Caribbean. It represents a professional network of over 20,000 lawyers, judges, educators and law students.

• August 1, 1941 Ronald Harmon Brown, the first and only African American to serve as United States Secretary of Commerce, was born in Washington, D.C. Brown earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Middlebury College in 1962. He served in the United States Army from 1963 to 1967, rising to the rank of captain. In 1970, he earned his Juris Doctorate degree from St. John’s University School of Law. From 1967 to 1979, Brown worked for the National Urban League, rising to the position of deputy executive director for programs and governmental affairs. Brown was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1989 and played an integral role in the election of President William Clinton. President Clinton then appointed Brown Secretary of Commerce in 1993. Brown died along with 34 others on April 3, 1996 in a plane crash in Croatia. In honor of Brown, President Clinton established the Ron Brown Award for corporate leadership and responsibility. The United States Department of Commerce annually gives out the Ronald H. Brown Innovator Award and there is the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development at St. John’s University School of Law. In 2001, Brown was posthumously presented the Presidential Citizens Medal. In 2011, the new U.S. Mission to the United Nations building in New York City was named in Brown’s honor. His biography, “Ron Brown: An Uncommon Life,” was published in 2000.

• August 1, 1960 Dahomey, renamed the Republic of Benin in 1990, proclaimed its independence from France. The Republic of Benin is located in western Africa and is bordered by Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east, and Burkina Faso and Niger to the north. It is approximately 43,500 square miles and the official language is French. The Republic of Benin has a population of approximately 8.5 million people with 43% Christian, 25% Muslim, and 17% practice Vodun.

• August 1, 1962 Joetta Clark Diggs, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in East Orange, New Jersey. Diggs attended the University of Tennessee where she was the NCAA indoor and outdoor 800 meter champion in 1983 and 1984. She also earned her bachelor’s degree in public relations in 1984. Over a career lasting almost 25 years, Diggs was a seven-time U.S. indoor champion, five-time U.S. outdoor champion, and competed in four Olympic Games. Diggs retired from track in 2000 and later earned a graduate degree in recreation administration. She is currently president of Joetta Sports & Beyond and executive director of the Joetta Clark Diggs Sports Foundation. She was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2009.

• August 1, 1993 Barbara Ross-Lee became the first African American woman to head a medical school in the United States when she was appointed dean of the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine. Ross-Lee was born in 1942 in Detroit, Michigan. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and biology from Wayne State University in 1965. In 1969, while working for the National Teaching Corps, she earned her Master of Arts degree in teaching special populations. In 1973, she earned her Doctor of Osteopathy degree from Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. In 2001, Ross-Lee became dean of the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine and vice president of Health Sciences and Medical Affairs. Ross-Lee has received a number of awards, including an honorary doctorate degree from the New York Institute of Technology. She is also the older sister of Diana Ross.

• August 1, 1996 Michael Duane Johnson became the first man to win Gold medals in the 200 and 400 meter races at the same Olympic Games. Johnson was born September 13, 1967 in Dallas, Texas. He attended Baylor University where he won several NCAA championships in indoor and outdoor sprints and relays. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in business in 1990. In addition to the medals won at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, Johnson won Gold medals at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games as a member of the 4 by 400 meter relay team and at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games in the 400 meter race. He is the only man to successfully defend his Olympic title in the 400 meter race. In 1996, Johnson received the John E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States and was named ABC’s Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year. That same year, he published his autobiography, “Slaying the Dragon: How to Turn Your Small Steps to Great Feats.” Johnson retired from track after the 2000 Summer Olympics and currently runs a sports management company and a state of the art athletic training complex. Johnson was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2004 and his 1996 Olympic performance in the 200 meter race was named the greatest track and field moment of the last 25 years. Johnson holds the current world record in the 400 meter race and the 4 by 400 meter relay.

• August 1, 2009 Naomi Ruth Sims, the first African American supermodel, died. Sims was born March 30, 1948 in Oxford, Mississippi, but raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Sims’ early attempts to get modeling work through established agencies were frustrated by racial prejudice with some telling her that her skin was too dark. Her first break came in August, 1967 when she was photographed for the cover of the New York Times’ fashion supplement. Her next breakthrough was when she was selected for a national television campaign for AT&T. After that, she went on to achieve worldwide recognition, appearing as the first black model on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal in 1968 and on the cover of Life Magazine in 1969. Sims retired from modeling in 1973 and started her own business, which expanded into a multi-million dollar beauty empire. She also authored several books on modeling, health and beauty, including “All About Health and Beauty for the Black Woman” (1976), “How to Be a Top Model” (1979), and “All About Success for the Black Woman” (1982).

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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.