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Today in Black History, 8/2/2012

• August 2, 1891 George Washington Williams, Civil War veteran, minister, and historian, died. Williams was born October 16, 1849 in Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the Union Army at 14 and fought during the final battles of the Civil War. After returning to civilian life, he enrolled at the Newton Theological Institute and earned his Doctor of Divinity degree in 1874, the first African American to graduate from the institution. After graduation, Williams held several pastorates, including the historic Twelfth Baptist Church of Boston. Later, Williams moved to Cincinnati, Ohio and became the first African American elected to the Ohio State Legislature, serving one term from 1880 to 1881. In 1885, President Chester Arthur appointed Williams Minister Resident and Consul General to Haiti. In addition to his religious and political achievements, Williams also authored “A History of Negro Troops in the War of Rebellion” (1887) and “The History of the Negro Race in America 1619 to 1880” (1883), the first written history of African Americans. Williams’ biography, “George Washington Williams,” was published in 1985.

• August 2, 1916 Samuel David Ferguson, the first black person to be elected a bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, died. Ferguson was born January 1, 1842 in Charleston, South Carolina. He moved with his family to Liberia at the age of six where he attended mission schools. He was appointed a teacher at a boy’s boarding school in Cavalla in 1862 and at a Mount Vaughan high school from 1863 to 1873. Ferguson was consecrated a deacon in 1865 and a priest in 1868. In 1885, he was consecrated a bishop in New York City, becoming the first black member of the House of Bishops. As Missionary Bishop of Liberia, Ferguson founded what is now Cuttington University College in 1889, established the Bromley Episcopal Mission School in 1905, and organized countless other schools in local villages.

• August 2, 1923 Isiah “Ike” Williams, hall of fame boxer, was born in Brunswick, Georgia. Williams began boxing professionally in 1940 and won the World Lightweight Boxing Championship in 1945. He successfully defended the title five times before losing it in 1951. He was named the Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year in 1948. Williams retired from boxing in 1956 with a record of 125 wins, 24 losses, and 5 draws. He was named to Ring Magazine’s list of 100 greatest punchers of all-time and inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. Williams died in relative poverty on September 5, 1994.

• August 2, 1924 James Arthur Baldwin, novelist, playwright, poet, essayist, and civil rights activist, was born in Harlem, New York. When he was 17, Baldwin began to write short stories, essays, and book reviews, many of which were later collected in “Notes of a Native Son” (1955). In 1948, disillusioned by prejudice against African Americans and homosexuals, he left the United States for Paris, France where he would live as an expatriate for most of his later life. Baldwin published his first novel, “Go Tell It on the Mountain” in 1953. Other works by Baldwin include “Amen Corner” (1954), “The Fire Next Time” (1963), “Blues for Mister Charley” (1964), and “Harlem Quartet” (1987). Most of Baldwin’s works deal with racial and sexual issues in the mid-20th century United States. Baldwin died November 30, 1987. In 2005, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor. Several biographies of Baldwin have been published, including “James Baldwin: A Biography” (1994) and “Baldwin’s Harlem: A Biography of James Baldwin” (2008).

• August 2, 1945 Jewell Jackson McCabe, businesswoman and the first president of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, was born in Washington, D.C. McCabe studied dance at Bard College from 1961 to 1963 before becoming director of public affairs for the New York Urban Coalition in 1970. From 1973 to 1977, she did public relations work for the City and State of New York and from 1977 to 1982 she worked as director of Government and Community Affairs for New York’s public broadcasting station. In 1978, McCabe became president of the New York Coalition of 100 Black Women and pledged to take it national. By 1981, she had organized chapters in 22 states. McCabe served as president of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women from 1981 to 1991. During that time the organization grew to 62 chapters with more than 7,000 members. McCabe is currently president of Jewell Jackson McCabe Associates in New York City, a consulting firm specializing in strategic communications, executive coaching, and competitiveness training.

• August 2, 1951 William Henry Thompson was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest decoration, for his actions during the Korean War. Not much is known of Thompson’s early life other than he was born August 16, 1927 in New York City and when he enlisted in the army he gave his address as the Home for Homeless Boys in The Bronx. On August 6, 1950, he was serving as a private first class in Company M, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division near Haman, South Korea. His actions on that day earned him the medal. Thompson’s citation partially reads, “While his platoon was reorganizing under the cover of darkness, fanatical enemy forces in overwhelming strength launched a surprise attack on the unit. Pfc. Thompson set up his machine gun in the path of the onslaught and swept the enemy with withering fire, pinning them down momentarily thus permitting the remainder of his platoon to withdraw to a more tenable position. Although hit repeatedly by grenade fragments and small-arms fire, he resisted all efforts of his comrades to induce him to withdraw, steadfastly remained at his machine gun and continued to deliver deadly, accurate fire until mortally wounded by an enemy grenade.” Thompson died from his wounds on August 23, 1950. Initially, no black soldiers were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their service during World Wars I or II, making Thompson the first black American to receive the medal since the Spanish-American War. In the 1990s, this wrong was partially righted when the medals of one World War I veteran and seven World War II veterans were upgraded to the Congressional Medal of Honor.

• August 2, 1967 Claude Albert Barnett, entrepreneur and founder of the Associated Negro Press, died. Barnett was born September 16, 1889 in Sanford, Florida. He earned an engineering degree from Tuskegee Institute in 1906 with the institution’s highest award. In 1913, he began reproducing photographs of notable black luminaries and selling them. By 1917, Barnett had transformed this endeavor into a thriving business. In 1919, Barnett created the Associated Negro Press, a service designed to provide primarily African American newspapers with a reliable stream of news stories. At its peak in the early 1950s, the ANP serviced 200 newspapers around the world. During the 1930s, Barnett served as a consultant to the United States Department of Agriculture and from 1938 to 1942 served as the president of the board of directors of Provident Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. He also served on the boards of the American Red Cross and Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company. In 1951, the President of Haiti presented him with the Chevalier Order of Honor and Merit and the next year the President of Liberia bestowed upon him the title of Commander of the Order of Star of Africa. Barnett’s story is told in “A Black National News Service, the Associated Negro Press and Claude Barnett, 1919 – 1945” (1984).

• August 2, 1983 James Lee Jamerson, hall of fame bass player and member of Motown’s Funk Brothers, died. Jamerson was born January 29, 1936 on Edisto Island, South Carolina. He moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1954. He learned to play the bass at Northwestern High School and soon began playing in blues and jazz clubs. In 1959, Jamerson joined Motown Records and he is reported to have played on 95% of Motown recordings between 1962 and 1968. Jamerson’s relationship with Motown ended in 1973 and he went on to perform on such hits as the Hues Corporation’s “Rock the Boat” (1974), The Sylvers’ “Boogie Fever” (1975), and Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis’ “You Don’t Have To Be A Star (To Be In My Show)” (1976). Jamerson was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Fender Hall of Fame in 2009.

• August 2, 1997 Fela Anikulapo Kuti, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and human rights activist, died. Fela was born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti on October 15, 1938 in Abeokuta, Nigeria. In 1958, Fela was sent to London, England to study medicine but decided to study music instead at the Trinity College of Music. In 1963, he returned to Nigeria and formed a band. In 1969, Fela took the band to the United States where he discovered the Black Power Movement. After returning to Nigeria, his music became more politically motivated. His music was popular among the Nigerian public and Africans in general but unpopular with the ruling government. In 1977, Fela released the album “Zombie” which was an attack on the Nigerian military. The album was a smash hit with the public but resulted in an attack by Nigerian soldiers in which Fela was severely beaten and his mother was killed. In 1979, Fela formed his own political party, Movement of the People, and put himself up for president in Nigeria’s first elections in more than a decade. His candidacy was refused by the government. In 1984, Fela was jailed by the government for 20 months. In 1989, he released the anti-apartheid album “Beasts of No Nation.” More than a million people attended Fela’s funeral. A number of biographies have been written about Fela, including “Fela, Fela! This Bitch of a Life” (1982), “Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon” (1997), and “The Ikoyi Prison Narratives: The Spiritualism and Political Philosophy of Fela Kuti” (2009). Also in 2009, a production of his life titled “Fela!” opened on Broadway and continues to tour around the world.

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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.