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Today in Black History, 8/12/2012

• August 12, 1855 Clinton Greaves, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born enslaved in Madison County, Virginia. Greaves joined the United States Army in 1872 and by January 24, 1877 was serving as a corporal in Company C of the 9th Cavalry Regiment during the Indian Wars. On that day, his actions earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. His citation reads, “While part of a small detachment to persuade a band of renegade Apache Indians to surrender, his group was surrounded. Cpl. Greaves in the center of the savage hand-to-hand fighting, managed to shoot and bash a gap through the swarming Apaches, permitting his companions to break free.” Greaves received the medal on June 26, 1879. He rose to the rank of sergeant before leaving the army after 20 years of service. Greaves died August 18, 1906. Camp Greaves, a U.S. Army installation in the Republic of South Korea which was closed in 2004, was named in his honor.

• August 12, 1891 Lillian Evanti, one of the first African American women to become an internationally prominent opera performer, was born Lillian Evans in Washington, D.C. A gifted student and performer, she could speak and sing in five different languages and earned her bachelor’s degree in music from Howard University. Evans, a lyric soprano, began singing professionally in 1918 under the stage name Evanti. She moved to France in 1925 where she became the first African American woman to sing with a European opera company. In 1934, she gave a special command performance for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1941, she and Mary Caldwell Dawson created The National Negro Opera Company to provide a venue for African American performers. Over her career, Evanti performed in 24 operas. Evanti died December 6, 1967. Her home in Washington, D.C. was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

• August 12, 1922 Emma Ophelia DeVore, the first prominent African American model in the United States, was born in Edgefield, South Carolina. DeVore began modeling at the age of 16 and as a fair skinned African American gained contracts throughout Europe. In 1946, determined to create a market for non-white women in the U.S., DeVore established the Grace Del Marco Agency. The agency has been a stepping stone for countless household names including Diahann Carroll, Richard Roundtree, Cicely Tyson and others. In 1989, DeVore was featured in “I Dream a World,” a collection of portraits and biographies of black women who helped change America. In 2004, she was honored by the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Fashion Arts Xchange, Inc. for her contributions to fashion and entertainment. She is also the Chief Executive Officer and Publisher of The Columbus Times newspaper in Columbus, Georgia.

• August 12, 1957 Albert Chalky Wright, hall of fame boxer, died. Wright was born February 10, 1912 in Wilcox, Arizona. He began boxing professionally in 1928, two weeks after turning 16. He fought for many years before winning the World Featherweight Boxing Championship in September, 1941. He successfully defended the title once before losing it in November, 1942. Wright retired in 1948 with a record of 160 wins, 43 losses, and 18 draws. After retiring, Wright served as a chauffeur and bodyguard for Mae West. Wright was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997.

• August 12, 1959 Lynette Woodard, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Wichita, Kansas. Woodard played college basketball at the University of Kansas where she was a four-time All-American, two-time Academic All-American, and earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in speech communications and human relations. She holds the major college women’s basketball record for most points scored during a career. In 1984, Woodard was a member of the United States’ women’s basketball team that won the Gold medal at the Los Angeles Olympic Games. In 1985, she became the first female member of the Harlem Globetrotters. Woodard played basketball overseas from 1990 to 1997 and retired in 1999. In 2004, she was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and in 2005 she was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Woodard has been an assistant coach at the University of Kansas since 1999. Additionally, she serves on the advisory board of the Women’s Sports Foundation and works as a financial consultant.

• August 12, 1988 Jean-Michel Basquiat, the first painter of African descent to become an international art star, died. Basquiat was born December 22, 1960 in Brooklyn, New York. By the age of 11, he was fluent in French and Spanish. Basquiat dropped out of high school and started as a graffiti artist. By 1982, he had become part of the neo-expressionist movement and was showing his work regularly. In 1985, he appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in a feature entitled “New Art, New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist.” Examples of Basquiat’s representation of his heritage in his work include “Irony of Negro Policeman” (1981) and “Untitled (History of the Black People)” (1983). Several major museum retrospective exhibitions of his work have been held since his death, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Brooklyn Museum. His works sell for millions of dollars. In 2007, an untitled work from 1981 sold for $14.6 million. In 1996, a film biography titled “Basquiat” was released and in 2009 a documentary film, “Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child,” was released.

• August 12, 1997 Luther Allison, hall of fame blues guitarist, died. Allison was born August 17, 1939 in Widener, Arkansas, but raised in Chicago, Illinois. Allison taught himself to play the guitar. During the 1950s and early 1960s, he worked the Chicago club circuit. He released his debut album, “Love Me Mama,” in 1968. In 1972, Allison was signed by Motown records, the first and one of the few blues artists to sign with Motown. By the mid-1970s, he began touring Europe and in 1977 moved to France. In 1994, Allison returned to the United States and released the album “Soul Fixin’ Man” which won four W. C. Handy Awards. He also released the album “Reckless” just before his death. Allison was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1998.

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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.