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Today in Black History, 8/18/2012

• August 18, 1906 Clinton Greaves, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Greaves was born August 12, 1855 in Madison County, Virginia. He joined the United States Army 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. Greaves rose to the rank of sergeant before leaving the army after 20 years of service. Camp Greaves, a U.S. Army installation in the Republic of South Korea which was closed in 2004, was named in his honor.

• August 18, 1934 Roberto Clemente Walker, hall of fame baseball player and humanitarian, was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico. Clemente was drafted by the Pittsburg Pirates in 1954 and played 18 seasons with the team. During his career, he was a 12-time All-Star, 12-time Golden Glove winner, led the league in batting average four times, and was the National League Most Valuable Player in 1966. Clemente was involved in charitable activities throughout Latin America. He died in an airplane crash on December 31, 1972 while delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. After his death, the Baseball Hall of Fame waived the rule requiring a five year waiting period after the end of player’s career and he was posthumously inducted into the hall of fame in 1973, the first Hispanic player inducted. In 1973, Clemente was posthumously awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal and in 2003 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President George W. Bush. Major League Baseball annually presents the Roberto Clemente Award to the player that best exemplifies Clemente’s humanitarian work. Roberto Clemente Middle School in Germantown, Maryland and Roberto Clemente High School in Chicago, Illinois are named in his honor. His biography, “Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero,” was published in 2006.

• August 18, 1935 Rafer Lewis Johnson, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in Hillsboro, Texas. Johnson competed for the first time in the decathlon in 1954 as a freshman at the University of California, Los Angeles and in his fourth competition broke the world record. Johnson competed in the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, but hampered by an injury, finished second winning the Silver medal. It would be the last time that he lost in the event. At the 1960 Rome Olympic Games, Johnson served as the captain of the American Olympic Team and bore the United States flag during the opening ceremonies, the first African American to have that honor. At those games, he won the Gold medal in the decathlon. Johnson was named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated Magazine in 1958 and won the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States in 1960. After the 1960 Olympics, Johnson ended his athletic career and began acting and working as a sportscaster. He was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1974. In 1998, his autobiography, “The Best That I Can Be: An Autobiography” was published. He is the spokesperson for Hershey’s Track & Field Games and is very involved with Special Olympics. Rafer Johnson Junior High School in Kingsbury, California and Rafer Johnson Community Day School and Rafer Johnson Children’s Center in Bakersfield, California are named in his honor.

• August 18, 1935 Gail Fisher, the first African American to win an Emmy Award, was born in Orange, New Jersey. As a teenager, Fisher entered several beauty contests and won a two year scholarship to study acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. She made her first television appearance in 1960 in “Play of the Week.” Also in the early 1960s, she appeared in a television commercial for All laundry detergent, making her the first black female to appear in a national TV commercial with lines. From 1968 to 1975, Fisher appeared in the detective series “Mannix.” For that role, she was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in Drama four times and won the award in 1970. After “Mannix” was cancelled, Fisher rarely appeared again on television and she died December 2, 2000.

• August 18, 1935 Hifikepunye Lucas Pohamba, President of the Republic of Namibia, was born in Okanghudi, South West Africa (now Namibia). Pohamba was a founding member of the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) which led the fight for Namibian independence. He spent four months in jail and two years under house arrest for his activities. After Namibia gained its independence from South Africa on March 21, 1990, Pohamba served as Minister of Home Affairs from 1990 to 1995, Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources from 1995 to 1997, Minister without Portfolio from 1997 to 2000, and Minister of Lands, Resettlement and Rehabilitation from 2001 to 2005. Pohamba was elected president in 2004 and re-elected to a second five year term in 2009.

• August 18, 1943 Edwin Hawkins, hall of fame gospel and R&B pianist, choir leader, composer, and arranger, was born in Oakland, California. At the age of seven, Hawkins was the keyboardist for his family’s gospel choir. In 1967, Hawkins co-founded the Northern California State Youth Choir and a year later the ensemble recorded their debut album, “Let Us Go into the House of the Lord.” That album contained the single “Oh Happy Day” which was arranged by Hawkins, sold more than 7 million copies worldwide, and won the 1970 Grammy Award for Best Soul Gospel Performance. Other albums by the Edwin Hawkins Singers include “More Happy Days” (1971), “Imagine Heaven” (1982), and “Love Is the Only Way” (1998). Hawkins has won three additional Grammy Awards and in 2000 was inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame. Hawkins continues to perform and host his successful Music and Arts seminar.

• August 18, 1944 Jacques Roumain, writer and political activist, died. Roumain was born June 4, 1907 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. His grandfather served as the president of Haiti from 1912 to 1913. Roumain was educated in Belgium, Switzerland, France, Germany, and Spain. At 20 years old, he returned to Haiti and founded “The Indigenous Review: Arts and Life.” Romain was active in the struggle against the United States’ occupation of Haiti and in 1934 founded the Haitian Communist Party. During that time, he was often arrested and finally was exiled. Although not well known in the English speaking world, Roumain is renowned in Europe, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Two of his most influential books are the novel “Gouverneurs de la Rosee (Masters of the Dew)” (1944) and the poetry collection “Bois D’ebene (Ebony Wood) (1945). Much of Roumain’s work expresses the frustration and rage of people who have been downtrodden for centuries and his writings continue to influence and shape Haitian culture and the pan-African world today. Biographies of Roumain include “A Knot in the Thread: The Life and Work of Jacques Roumain” (1980) and “Jacques Roumain” (1981).

• August 18, 1963 James H. Meredith became the first African American to graduate from the University of Mississippi. Meredith was born June 25, 1933 in Kosciusko, Mississippi. He enlisted in the United States Air Force immediately after graduating from high school and served from 1951 to 1960. He then attended Jackson State College for two years before applying for admission to the University of Mississippi. After Meredith was denied admission twice, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund filed suit. The United States Supreme Court eventually ruled that Meredith had to be admitted and on October 1, 1962 he became the first black student at the university. This sparks riots on the campus which left two people dead. Meredith’s actions are considered a pivotal moment in the history of civil rights in the United States. Despite harassment from other students, Meredith earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science. He also earned his Juris Doctorate degree from Columbia University in 1968. In 1966, Meredith led “The March Against Fear” from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi. During the march, he was shot in an attempted assassination. Also that year, his memoir, “Three Years in Mississippi,” was published. “The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss” (2009) traces the history of the University of Mississippi prior to Meredith’s arrival, the legal and political standoff over his admission, and the fatal riots that ensued. A statue of Meredith is located on the campus of the university.

• August 18, 1978 Richard Benjamin Moore, lecturer, political activist, and author, died. Moore was born August 9, 1893 in Christ Church, Barbados. He moved with his family to the United States in 1909 and settled in Harlem, New York. In Harlem, Moore was introduced to the realities of European colonialism in Africa and the Caribbean as well as the injustices of Jim Crow in the South. In 1915, he joined the 21st Assembly District Socialist Club in Harlem and by 1918 he was well known through his speeches on Black Nationalism and Marxism. In 1920, Moore co-founded “The Emancipator,” a magazine devoted to Marxism as the liberating ideology for African Americans. In 1921, Moore became one of the first African Americans to join the American Communist Party. He remained a member until 1942 when he was expelled for promoting a Black Nationalist agenda. In 1942, Moore opened the Frederick Douglass Book Center which became well known for carrying rare texts on black people. In 1960, Moore wrote “The Name Negro: Its Origin and Evil Use” which argued against the terms “Negro” and “colored” in referring to people of African descent and promoted the use of “Afro-American.” Moore’s biography, “Richard B. Moore: Caribbean Militant in Harlem,” was published in 1988.

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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.