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Today in Black History, 8/21/2012

• August 21, 1831 Nat Turner’s rebellion began in Southampton County, Virginia. Turner was an enslaved black man who started with a few trusted fellow slaves and grew into more than 50 enslaved and free blacks. The rebels traveled from house to house, freeing slaves and killing their white owners. The rebellion was suppressed within 48 hours with 55 white men, women and children killed. Turner was captured on October 30. On November 5 he was convicted and sentenced to death and he was hung on November 11, 1831. The state executed 56 other blacks suspected of being involved in the uprising and another 200 blacks, most of whom had nothing to do with the uprising, were beaten, tortured, and murdered by angry white mobs. Also, the Virginia General Assembly passed new laws making it unlawful to teach enslaved or free blacks or mulattoes to read or write and restricting blacks from holding religious meetings without the presence of a licensed white minister. “The Confessions of Nat Turner,” a novel, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1968 and a film, “Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property,” was released in 2003. Turner’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• August 21, 1877 Alexander P. Ashbourne of Oakland, California received patent number 194,287 for an improvement in the process of treating cocoanut. His process allowed the meat to be better preserved and retain its flavor and sweetness. Previously, he had received patent number 163,962 on June 1, 1875 for a process for refining coconut oil for domestic use and patent number 170,460 on November 30, 1875 for an improved biscuit cutter. He later received patent number 230,518 on July 27, 1880 for a process for preparing coconut. Not much else is known of Ashbourne’s life except that he was a successful dry goods grocer.

• August 21, 1904 William “Count” Basie, hall of fame jazz pianist, bandleader, and composer, was born in Red Bank, New Jersey. At the age of 15, Basie was playing piano with pick-up groups for dances and amateur shows. He led his first band in the mid-1930s and continued to lead bands into the 1980s, becoming widely regarded as one of the most important jazz bandleaders of his time. Many notable musicians came to prominence under his direction, including Lester Young and Buck Clayton and singers Jimmy Rushing and Joe Williams. Basie made more than 20 recordings with his big band and his recordings of “One O’Clock Jump” (1937), “Lester Leaps In” (1939), “Everyday (I Have the Blues” (1955), and “April in Paris” (1955) are in the Grammy Hall of Fame as recordings of “lasting qualitative or historical significance.” In 1958, he was inducted into the Downbeat Jazz Hall of Fame, in 1981 he received Kennedy Center Honors, and in 1983 he was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz musician, by the National Endowment for the Arts. Basie died April 26, 1984, having won nine Grammy Awards during his career. In 1985, he was posthumously presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Ronald Reagan. That same year, his autobiography, “Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography of Count Basie,” was published. In 2002, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor and that same year he was posthumously honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2005, his song “One O’Clock Jump” was included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry as “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.” The Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey is named in his honor.

• August 21, 1910 George Franklin Grant, pioneering dentist and inventor of the golf tee, died. Grant was born September 16, 1846 in Oswego, New York. He graduated with honors from the Harvard School of Dentistry in 1870, the second African American to graduate from the school. He then became the first African American member of the Harvard faculty when he took a position in the Department of Mechanical Dentistry where he worked for 19 years. He was also recognized internationally for his invention of the oblate palate, a prosthetic device for the treatment of cleft palate. Grant was a founding member and later president of the Harvard Odontological Society. He was also a member of the Harvard Dental Alumni Association and was elected president in 1881. Grant was an avid golfer and on December 12, 1899 he received patent number 638,920 for his invention of the golf tee. Grant did not manufacture or market the tee, therefore it was not seen by anyone outside of his circle of golfing friends. It was not until 1991 that the United States Golf Association recognized Grant as the inventor of the wooden tee and for his contribution to the game of golf.

• August 21, 1928 Arthur Stewart Farmer, hall of fame jazz trumpeter and flugelhorn player, was born in Council Bluff, Iowa, but raised in Phoenix, Arizona. Farmer began his musical education by studying the piano and violin. He moved to Los Angeles, California at the age of 16 and worked as a musician from the mid-1940s onwards. In 1952, he joined Lionel Hampton’s orchestra and toured Europe. In 1958, Farmer released “Modern Art.” Other albums by Farmer as leader include “To Sweden with Love” (1964), “The Company I Keep” (1994), and “At Boomers” (2008). In 1968, Farmer moved to Vienna, Austria to perform with the Austrian Radio Orchestra and in 1994 he was awarded the Austrian Gold Medal of Merit. In 1999, he was designated an NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz musician, by the National Endowment for the Arts. Farmer died October 4, 1999 and was posthumously inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 2001.

• August 21, 1932 Melvin Van Peebles, actor, director, novelist, and composer, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Van Peebles shot his first short film, “Pickup Men for Herrick,” in 1957. After several other short films and many years in Europe, Van Peebles in 1971 produced the groundbreaking “Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.” He not only funded the project out of his own pockets and with a $50,000 loan from Bill Cosby, but also directed, scripted, edited, wrote the score, and directed the marketing campaign. The film eventually grossed $10 million. In 1990, Van Peebles co-authored with his son, Mario, “No Identity Crisis: A Father and Son’s Own Story of Working Together.” In 2005, Van Peebles was the subject of a documentary entitled “How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It)” and in 2008 he completed the film “Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha.” In April, 2009, Van Peebles staged at the Apollo Theater a preliminary version of Sweet Sweetback the musical.

• August 21, 1936 Wilton Norman “Wilt” Chamberlain, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Chamberlain was 6 feet 11 inches when he entered high school and used that advantage as a prolific scorer throughout his high school and college career. After his junior year of college, Chamberlain played for one year with the Harlem Globetrotters before entering the NBA in 1959 with the Philadelphia Warriors. Over his 14 season NBA career Chamberlain was the 1960 Rookie of the Year, four-time Most Valuable Player, two-time league champion, seven-time scoring leader, 11-time rebounding leader, and 13-time All-Star. He is the only player in NBA history to average more than 50 points a game over a season or score 100 points in a single game. Chamberlain was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978 and in 1996 was chosen as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. He was posthumously inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. Chamberlain published two autobiographies, “Wilt: Just like Any Other 7-Foot Black Millionaire Who Lives Next Door” (1973) and “A View From Above” (1991). Chamberlain died October 12, 1999.

• August 21, 1939 Festus Gontebanye Mogae, former President of the Republic of Botswana, was born in Serowe, Botswana. Mogae received an honors degree from Oxford University and a degree in development economics from Sussex University. He returned to Botswana to work as a civil servant before working at the International Monetary Fund and the Bank of Botswana. Mogae served as Vice President of Botswana from 1992 to 1998 before becoming the third president of the country in 1998. In 2008, Mogae voluntarily stepped down from the presidency. That same year, he was awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion d’honneur by France for his exemplary leadership in making Botswana a model of democracy and good governance. Also that year, he won the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. Mogae currently serves as Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General on Climate Change and in 2010 he joined the advisory board of TeachAIDS.

• August 21, 1945 Willie Edward Lanier, hall of fame football player, was born in Clover, Virginia. Lanier played college football at Morgan State University and was twice named Small-College All-American. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration in 1967. That same year, Lanier was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL Draft and became the first black middle linebacker in professional football history. Over his 11 season professional career, Lanier was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection. After retiring in 1977, Lanier returned to school and became a stockbroker and now serves as a senior vice president at Wachovia Securities. Lanier has been active in Kansas City community service, working with the Friends Association for Children, Boy Scouts of America, and donating money for scholarships.

• August 21, 1954 Archie Mason Griffin, the only college football two-time Heisman Trophy winner, was born in Columbus, Ohio. Griffin played college football for Ohio State University from 1972 to 1975. In 1974 and 1975, he was awarded the Heisman Trophy as the most outstanding player in collegiate football. Griffin also graduated with a bachelor’s degree in industrial relations from Ohio State in 1976. Also in 1976, he was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL Draft. Griffin retired from professional football in 1983 and returned to Ohio State to earn his Master of Business Administration degree. In 1977, he published his autobiography, “Archie: The Archie Griffin Story.” He is currently President and CEO of the Ohio State University Alumni Association and serves on the boards of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.

• August 21, 1968 The Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, was presented to the family of James Anderson, Jr. by President Lyndon B. Johnson for his heroism while serving in Vietnam, making him the first African American United States Marine recipient of the medal. Anderson was born January 22, 1947 in Los Angeles, California and enlisted in the marines in 1966. He was promoted to private first class after graduating from recruit training and sent to Vietnam as a rifleman, 2nd Platoon, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Division. On February 28, 1967, his actions earned him the medal. His citation partially reads, “Company F was advancing in dense jungle northeast of Cam Lo in an effort to extract a heavily besieged reconnaissance patrol. Private First Class Anderson’s platoon was the lead element and had advanced only about 200 meters when they were brought under extremely intense enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire. The Platoon reacted swiftly, getting on line as best they could in the thick terrain, and begun returning fire. Private First Class Anderson found himself tightly bunched together with the other members of the platoon only 20 meters from the enemy positions. As the fire fight continued several of the men were wounded by the deadly enemy assault. Suddenly, an enemy grenade landed in the midst of the Marines and rolled alongside Private First Class Anderson’s head. Unhesitatingly and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, he reached out, grasped the grenade, pulled it to his chest and curled around it as it went off. Although several Marines received shrapnel from the grenade, his body absorbed the major force of the explosion. In this singular heroic act, Private First Class Anderson saved his comrades from serious injury and possible death.” The United States preposition ship, PFC. James Anderson, Jr., and the James Anderson, Jr. Memorial Park in Carson, California are named in his honor.

• August 21, 1986 Usain St. Leo Bolt, three-time Olympic gold medalist, was born in Trelawny, Jamaica. Bolt leapt onto the international track and field scene when he won the 200 meter Gold medal at the 2002 World Junior Championships, making him the competition’s youngest ever gold medalist. He turned professional in 2004 and at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games he won Gold medals in the 100 meter race, the 200 meter race, and the 4 by 100 meter relay. Bolt holds the world records for the 100 and 200 meter events and with his teammates the 4 by 100 meter relay. His achievements have earned him the nickname “Lightning Bolt.” He was named Track and Field Athlete of the Year in 2008, 2009 and 2011 and the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year in 2009 and 2010.

• August 21, 1986 Thaddeus Joseph “Thad” Jones, hall of fame jazz trumpeter, composer and bandleader, died. Jones was born March 28, 1923 in Pontiac, Michigan. He was a self-taught musician and began playing professionally at the age of 16. He served in the United States Army from 1943 to 1946. In 1954, Jones joined the Count Basie Orchestra where he contributed more than 20 arrangements and compositions. Jones left the Basie Orchestra in 1963 to become a freelance arranger and studio musician. In 1965, he co-founded the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. They played together for twelve years, winning the 1978 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance – Big Band for their album “Live in Munich.” In 1978, Jones moved to Copenhagen, Denmark where he composed for the Danish Radio Big Band and taught jazz at the Royal Danish Conservatory. He returned to the United States in 1985 to lead the Basie Orchestra after Basie’s death. Jones was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1987.

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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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