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Today in Black History, 8/14/2012

• August 14, 1876 Prairie View A&M University, the second oldest state sponsored institution of higher learning in Texas, was founded. The Texas legislature authorized an “Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Benefit of Colored Youth” in 1876. Today, Prairie View has an enrollment of more than 8,000 students with more than 400 faculty members and offers baccalaureate degrees in 50 academic majors, 37 master’s degrees, and 4 doctorial degree programs. Some notable alumni include Rev. Emanuel Cleaver II, United States House of Representatives, Frederick D. Patterson, founder of the United Negro College Fund, and Otis Taylor, Hall of Fame professional football player.

• August 14, 1883 Ernest Everett Just, pioneering biologist and one of the founders of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, was born in Charleston, South Carolina. Just earned his Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude from Dartmouth College in zoology in 1907. He was also class valedictorian. After graduating and encountering the reality that it was almost impossible for an African American to join the faculty of a white college or university, Just accepted a position at Howard University. On November 17, 1911, Just served as the academic advisor to three Howard students in establishing Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. In 1912, Just was appointed head of the Department of Zoology at Howard, a position he held until his death on October 27, 1941. Just was the first recipient of the NAACP Springarn Medal in 1915 and the next year earned his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Chicago. In 1930, he became the first American to be invited to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, Germany where several Nobel Prize winners conducted research. He wrote the important textbook “Biology of the Cell Surface” in 1939. Just’s biography, “Black Apollo of Science: The Life of Ernest Everett Just,” was published in 1983. The book received the 1983 Pfizer Award and was a finalist for the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography. In 1996, Just became the 19th honoree in the United States Postal Service’s Black Heritage postage stamp series. Beginning in 2000, the Medical University of South Carolina has hosted the annual Ernest E. Just Symposium to encourage non-white students to pursue careers in biomedical sciences and health professions. The Ernest Everett Just Middle School in Mitchellville, Maryland is named in his honor.

• August 14, 1914 Herman Russell Branson, physicist and president of two colleges, was born in Pocahontas, Virginia. Branson earned his Bachelor of Science degree summa cum laude from Virginia State College in 1936 and his Ph.D in physics from the University of Cincinnati in 1939. He joined Howard University in 1941 and remained there for 27 years, eventually becoming the head of the Physics Department, director of a program in experimental science and mathematics, and working on the Office of Naval Research and Atomic Energy Commission Projects in Physics. Branson served as president of Central State University from 1968 to 1970 and president of Lincoln University from 1970 until his retirement in 1985. He was active in increasing federal funding for higher education and helped found the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education in 1969. Branson died June 7, 1995.

• August 14, 1922 Rebecca Cole, the second African American woman to become a doctor in the United States, died. Cole was born March 16, 1846 In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She graduated from the Institute for Colored Youth in 1863 and earned her Doctor of Medicine degree from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1867. She practiced medicine for more than fifty years. In 1873, Cole opened a Women’s Directory Center to provide medical and legal services to destitute women and children and in 1899 she was appointed superintendent of a home run by the Association for the Relief of Destitute Colored Women and Children in Washington, D.C. Cole fought for the medical rights of African Americans, women, children, and the poor until her death.

• August 14, 1929 Dick Tiger, hall of fame boxer, was born Richard Ihetu in Amaigbo, Nigeria. Tiger started boxing professionally in 1952 and won the World Middleweight Boxing Championship in 1962. After losing that title, he moved up in weight and won the World Light-Heavyweight Boxing Championship in 1966. Tiger was named Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year in 1962 and 1965. Tiger retired from boxing in 1970 with a record of 60 wins, 18 losses, and 3 draws. Tiger died December 14, 1971 and was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991. His biography, “Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal” was published in 2005.

• August 14, 1959 Earvin “Magic” Johnson, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Lansing, Michigan. Johnson led his high school team, Lansing Everett, to the Michigan State High School Championship in 1977 and his college team, Michigan State University, to the NCAA Tournament Championship in 1979. Johnson was selected in the 1979 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Lakers. Over his 17 season professional career, he led them to five NBA championships. Johnson also won three NBA Most Valuable Player awards, appeared in 12 All-Star games, and led the league in assists four times. He was selected as one of the “50 Greatest Players in NBA History” in 1996 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. Johnson was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. Since his retirement, Johnson has been an advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention as well as a businessman, philanthropist, and motivational speaker. In 2012, Johnson became part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers major league baseball team. His autobiography, “Magic Johnson: My Life,” was published in 1992. He also authored “Magic’s Touch: From Fundamentals to Fast Break With One of Basketball’s All-Time Greats” (1992) and “What You Can Do to Avoid AIDS” (1996).

• August 14, 1968 Maria Halle Berry, actress, was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Prior to becoming an actress, Berry won Miss Teen All-American in 1985, Miss Ohio USA in 1986, and was first runner-up in Miss USA 1986. That same year, she became the first African American entrant in the Miss World contest, finishing sixth. Berry’s breakthrough feature film role was in “Jungle Fever” (1989). Other films that she has appeared in include “Losing Isaiah” (1995), “Bulworth” (1998), and the “X-Men” trilogy. In 2001, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in “Monster’s Ball,” the first and only African American to win that award. In accepting the award Berry said, “This moment is so much bigger than me. This is for every nameless, faceless woman of color who now has a chance tonight because this door has been opened.” In addition, in 2000 she won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or Movie for her performance in “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” and in 2005 she was nominated in that same category for her performance in “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” In 2010, Berry starred in “Frankie and Alice” and was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama.

• August 14, 2010 Abbey Lincoln, jazz vocalist, songwriter, and actress, died. Lincoln was born Anna Marie Wooldridge on August 6, 1930 in Chicago, Illinois, but raised in a rural part of Michigan. She moved to California in 1951 to perform in nightclubs. In 1956, she began her recording career with “Abbey Lincoln’s Affair: A Story of a Girl in Love.” Other recordings by Lincoln include “Abbey is Blue” (1959), “People in Me” (1973), “Devils Got Your Tongue” (1992), and “Abbey Sings Abbey” (2007). In 1960, Lincoln sang on the landmark jazz civil rights recording “We Insist! – Freedom Now Suite” by Max Roach. Lincoln appeared in several films, including “The Girl Can’t Help It” (1956), “Nothing But a Man” (1964), “For Love of Ivy” (1968), for which she received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and “Mo’ Better Blues” (1990). In 2003, Lincoln was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts. The Public Broadcasting System aired a documentary of Lincoln’s life, “You Gotta Pay the Band: The Words, the Music, and the Life of Abbey Lincoln,” in 1992.

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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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