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Today in Black History, 8/23/2012

• August 23, 1899 Moses Williams, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Williams was born October 10, 1845 in Carrollton, Louisiana. Not much is known of his early life but by August 16, 1881, he was serving as a first sergeant in Company I of the 9th Cavalry Regiment during the Indian Wars. On that day, he participated in an engagement in the foothills of the Cuchillo Negro Mountains in New Mexico and his actions earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. His citation reads, “Rallied a detachment, skillfully conducted a running fight of 3 or 4 hours, and by his coolness, bravery, and unflinching devotion to duty in standing by his commanding officer in an exposed position under a heavy fire from a large party of Indians saved the lives of at least 3 of his comrades.” Williams was awarded the medal on November 12, 1896. He later reached the rank of ordinance sergeant and left the army in 1898.

• August 23, 1900 The National Negro Business League was founded in Boston, Massachusetts with Booker T. Washington as its first president. Its membership included the elite of black business leaders as well as a large number of the upwardly aspiring black middle class. In 1966, the organization was renamed the National Business League and reincorporated in Washington, D.C. A major goal of the league has been to include the minority business sector in the national economic priorities. Over the past 100 years, membership has grown throughout the United States and includes a vibrant network of National Student Business Leagues. The league continues to promote economic enterprise and financial literacy for African Americans throughout the United States and international trade with Africa and the African diaspora.

• August 23, 1945 Larry Rayfield Wright, hall of fame football player, was born in Griffin, Georgia. Wright was an All-American college football player at Fort Valley State College. He was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 NFL Draft. Over his 13 season professional career, Wright was a two-time Super Bowl champion, six-time Pro Bowl selection, and the 1972 NFC Offensive Lineman of the Year. Wright retired in 1979 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. Wright served as president of the NFL Alumni Chapter “Caring for Kids” program in the mid-1990s and was a co-founder of the non-profit “Kids 4 Tomorrow” organization. Wright is currently president of Team Wright Exploration, an oil production company. He is also president of the Rayfield Wright Foundation. His autobiography, “Wright Up Front” was published in 2005.

• August 23, 1950 William Henry Thompson, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Thompson was born August 16, 1927 in New York City. Not much is known of his life before he joined the United States Army except that when he enlisted he gave his address as the Home for Homeless Boys in The Bronx. On August 6, 1950, Thompson was serving as a private first class in Company M, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division near Haman, South Korea during the Korean War. His actions on that day earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. 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 two weeks later and was posthumously awarded the medal on August 2, 1951.

• August 23, 1953 Randel Luvelle “Randy” Williams, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in Fresno, California. Williams attended the University of Southern California where he won the national indoor and outdoor long jump championships in 1973. He won the Gold medal in the long jump at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games and his jump of 8.34 meters set the World Junior Record that still stands today. He also won the Silver medal in the long jump at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games. Williams was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2009. He currently serves as a firefighter.

• August 23, 1954 Phillip Emeagwali, engineer, computer scientist, and geologist, was born in Akure, Nigeria. Emeagwali earned his Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics from Oregon State University in 1977, his Master of Science degree in civil engineering from George Washington University in 1981, and his Master of Arts degree in applied mathematics from the University of Maryland in 1986. In 1989, he was one of two winners of the Gordon Bell Prize, considered the Nobel Prize of computing, for his use of the Connection Machine supercomputer. That machine consisted of over 65,000 parallel processors to help analyze petroleum fields. Emeagwali earned his Ph. D. in scientific computing from the University of Michigan in 1993. He has received numerous other awards and recognitions and was voted the greatest African scientist of all time in a survey by New African magazine.

• August 23, 2003 Robert Nelson Cornelius Nix, Jr., the first African American elected to statewide office in Pennsylvania and the first chief justice of any state’s highest court, died. Nix was born July 13, 1928 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from Villanova University in 1952 and his Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1955. He served two years in the United States Army. After serving two years as a Deputy Attorney General, Nix spent the next ten years in private practice where he gained a reputation as a civil rights advocate. In 1967, Nix was elected a judge on the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas and in 1972 was elected an associate justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the first African American elected to statewide office. He became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1984 and held that position until his retirement in 1996. From 1991 to 1992, Nix served as the president of the National Conference of Chief Justices.

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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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