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Today in Black History, 8/13/2012

• August 13, 1893 Eva Beatrice Dykes, the first black female to fulfill the requirements for a doctorial degree, was born in Washington, D.C. Dykes earned her Bachelor of Arts degree summa cum laude from Howard University in 1914. She then attended Radcliffe College where she earned her second Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude in 1917 and her Master of Arts degree in 1918. She also was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In 1921, Dykes completed the requirements for her doctorial degree, but because Radcliff held its graduation later than some other universities, she was the third black female to actually receive her Ph.D. From 1929 to 1944, Dykes taught English at Howard University and from 1944 to her retirement in 1975 she was chair of the English department at Oakwood College. Dykes co-authored “Readings from Negro Authors for Schools and Colleges” in 1931 and authored “The Negro in English Romantic Thought: Or a Study in Sympathy for the Oppressed” in 1942. In 1973, the Oakwood College library was named in her honor and she died October 29, 1986.

• August 13, 1906 The Brownsville Affair started when a white bartender was killed and a white police officer was wounded in Brownsville, Texas. The citizens of Brownsville immediately accused the black soldiers of the 25th Regiment at Fort Brown of the shootings. Despite the facts that the white commanders at Fort Brown confirmed that all of the soldiers were in their barracks at the time of the shooting and evidence that bullet cartridges from army rifles had been planted, Brownsville’s mayor and citizens continued to blame the soldiers. When the soldiers were pressured to name who fired the shots, they insisted that they had no idea. As a result, United States President Theodore Roosevelt ordered 167 of the black soldiers dishonorably discharged because of their “conspiracy of silence.” They were not given any type of hearing, trial, or the opportunity to confront their accusers. The dishonorable discharge prevented these men from receiving their pensions and ever working in a military or civil service capacity. In 1970, “The Brownsville Raid,” the report of the in depth investigation into the incident which found the accused men to be innocent, was published. As a result, the U.S. Army conducted another investigation and in 1972 found the accused members innocent and reversed President Roosevelt’s order. The administration of President Richard Nixon overturned the dishonorable discharges of the soldiers, but refused to grant their families the back pension pay. Books about the incident include “The Brownsville Affair: National Crisis and Black Reaction” (1971) and “The Brownsville Raid” (1992)

• August 13, 1911 James Benton Parsons, the first African American appointed to a lifetime federal judgeship in the United States, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, but raised in Decatur, Illinois. Parsons earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Millikin University in 1934 and his Master of Arts degree in political science from the University of Chicago in 1946. Parsons served in the U.S. Navy from 1942 to 1945 and earned his Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Chicago Law School in 1949. From that time to 1961, he was in private practice as well as serving in several public capacities in Illinois. On August 30, 1961, Parsons was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to a federal judgeship on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Parsons served on that court until his retirement in 1992. Parsons died June 19, 1993. Parsons Elementary School in Decatur and the ceremonial courtroom in the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago are named in his honor.

• August 13, 1919 Charles Edward Anderson, the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in meteorology, was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Anderson earned his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry in 1941 from Lincoln University. After graduating, he enlisted in the United States Army Air Force and was sent to the University of Chicago where he earned his meteorological certification in 1943 and began serving as weather officer for the Tuskegee Airmen. Anderson earned his Master of Science degree from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn in 1948 and in 1960 received his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Anderson remained a weather officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps until 1960. From 1966 until his death on October 21, 1994, Anderson was a professor, first at the University of Wisconsin and then at North Carolina State University. The American Meteorological Society annually awards a Charles E. Anderson Award to recognize outstanding contributions to the promotion of diversity in the atmospheric sciences.

• August 13, 1931 John W. Porter, the first black state school superintendent in the United States since reconstruction, was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Porter earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Albion College in 1953. He earned his Master of Arts degree in counseling and guidance and his Ph.D. in higher education from Michigan State University in 1957 and 1962, respectively. Porter worked as a teacher before becoming the first black professional employee of the Michigan Department of Education. In 1969, Porter was elected the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, making him the youngest and first black chief state school officer in the nation. He served in this capacity until 1979 when he was appointed president of Eastern Michigan University. Porter retired from EMU in 1989 and for two years served as interim superintendent of the Detroit Public School System. During his tenure, he executed a plan that eliminated a $160 million deficit and significantly reduced spending. Porter died June 27, 2012. The John W. Porter College of Education Building and the John W. Porter Distinguished Chair in Urban Education at Eastern Michigan University are named in his honor.

• August 13, 1947 George Godfrey, hall of fame boxer died. Godfrey was born Feab Smith Williams on January 25, 1897 in Mobile, Alabama. He began boxing while serving in the military during World War I. He made his professional debut in 1919 and during his 18 year career compiled a record of 97 wins, 20 losses, and 3 draws. Godfrey never had a chance to fight for the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship because of his race. He did however win the Mexican and International Boxing Union Heavyweight Boxing Championships. Godfrey was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2007.

• August 13, 1948 Kathleen Deanne Battle, operatic soprano, was born in Portsmouth, Ohio. Battle earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1970 and Master of Arts degree in 1971 from the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music in music education. She made her professional debut in 1975 with the Michigan Opera Theater. From there, she has performed in recitals, choral works, and operas, including singing for Pope John Paul II in 1985 and singing “The Lord’s Prayer” for Pope Benedict XVI at the White House in 2008. Although she no longer appears in operas, Battle remains active in concert and recital performances. Battle won the Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocalist Soloist Performance in 1986, 1987, and 1992 and the Grammy Award for Opera Recording in 1987 and 1993. She also won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement – Classical Music/Dance Programming – Performance in 1992 and is the recipient of seven honorary doctorates from American universities, including the University of Cincinnati, Ohio University, and Seton Hall University.

• August 13, 1971 King Curtis, hall of fame saxophonist, band leader and record producer, was killed. Curtis was born Curtis Ousley on February 7, 1934 in Fort Worth, Texas. He started playing the saxophone at the age of 12 and in 1950 joined the Lionel Hampton Band. In 1952, he moved to New York City and worked as a session player until the mid-1960s. In 1967, Curtis recorded his most successful singles, “Memphis Soul Stew” and “Ode to Billie Joe.” Other recordings by Curtis include “Sweet Soul” (1968), “Instant Groove” (1969), and “Get Ready” (1970). In 1970, Curtis won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Instrumental Performance for “Games People Play.” Curtis was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.

• August 13, 1982 Shani Davis, speed skater and the first black athlete to win a Gold medal in an individual Winter Olympic Games sport, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Davis learned to roller skate at the age of two and at six years old was enrolled at the Evanston Speed Skating Club. At 16, Davis was invited to Lake Placid, New York to participate in a development program for young speed skaters and after a year he moved to Marquette, Michigan to further his training. In 2000, Davis made history by becoming the first U.S. skater to make the long and short track teams at the Junior World Teams, a feat he accomplished again in 2001 and 2002. At the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, Davis won the Gold medal at 1000 meters and the Silver medal at 1500 meters. He repeated that performance at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada. Davis has set eight world records and currently holds three.

• August 13, 1986 Caterina Jarboro, the first black opera singer to sing on an opera stage in the United States, died. Jarboro was born Katherine Lee Yarborough on July 24, 1908 in Wilmington, North Carolina. At the age of 13, she was sent to Brooklyn, New York to study music. Jarboro also studied in Paris, France and in 1929 made her grand opera debut in Milan, Italy in “Aida.” She continued to sing in France and Italy until 1933 when she joined the Chicago Opera Company and became the first black to sing on an opera stage in the U.S. After her final engagement with the Chicago Opera in 1935, Jarboro sang for four seasons in Europe. She returned to the U.S. in 1941 and retired as a singer in 1955.

• August 13, 2007 Asa Grant Hilliard, III, educator, historian, and psychologist, died. Hilliard was born August 22, 1933 in Galveston, Texas. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Denver in 1955 and served in the United States Army as a first lieutenant from 1955 to 1957. Hilliard earned his Master of Arts degree in counseling and his Doctor of Education degree in educational psychology from the University of Denver in 1961 and 1963, respectively. Hilliard taught at San Francisco State University for 18 years, serving as department chair and dean of education. He was also a consultant to the Peace Corp and superintendent of schools in Liberia. From 1980 until his death, Hilliard was the Fuller E. Calloway Professor of Urban Education at Georgia State University. Hilliard served as lead expert witness in several landmark federal cases involving test validity and bias. He was also a founding member of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations and the National Black Child Development Institute. His publications include “The Maroon Within Us: Selected Essays on African American Community Socialization” (1995), “The Reawakening of the African Mind” (1997), and “African Power: Affirming African Indigenous Socialization in the Face of the Cultural Wars” (2002).

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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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