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Today in Black History, 8/24/2012

• August 24, 1854 The National Emigration Convention of Colored People opened in Cleveland, Ohio. The convention was led by early African American nationalist Martin R. Delany and attracted 106 delegates from around the United States. The three day convention was called to discuss the merits of emigration and to develop a practical plan for African Americans to emigrate to the West Indies or Central or South America. Delegates approved a series of resolutions which commented on the political and social conditions of blacks in the U.S. They also approved a document, “Political Destiny of the Colored Race,” which urged emigration to areas of Central and South America “which provide opportunity for the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty.” The convention established a Board of Commissioners with Delany as president and William Webb and Charles W. Nighten as commissioners. The movement was dissolved in 1861.

• August 24, 1854 John V. DeGrasse became the first black doctor admitted to the Massachusetts Medical Society. A graduate of Bowdoin College Medical School with honors in 1849, DeGrasse went to France and studied with one of the most noted surgeons of the time. He became fluent in French and German and returned to the United States to serve as the ship’s surgeon on the S. S. Samuel Fox. He was one of two black physicians to serve in combat units during the Civil War.

• August 24, 1889 Jan Ernst Matzeliger, hall of fame inventor, died. Matzeliger was born September 15, 1852 in Paramaribo, Dutch Guyana (now Suriname). After working as a sailor, he settled in the United States at the age of 19. By 1877, Matzeliger had moved to Lynn, Massachusetts and was working for a cobbler. On March 20, 1883, he received patent number 274,207 for the Automatic Method for Lasting Shoes. His machine could produce shoes ten times faster than working by hand and resulted in a more than 50% reduction in their cost. Matzeliger never saw the profits of his inventions due to his early death. He also posthumously received patent number 415,726 on November 26, 1889 for a mechanism for distributing tacks and nails, patent number 421,954 on February 25, 1890 for a nailing machine, patent number 423,937 on March 25, 1890 for a tack separating and distributing mechanism, and patent number 459,899 on September 22, 1891 for a lasting machine. In 1991, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in recognition of his accomplishments and in 2006 he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

• August 24, 1965 Reginald Wayne “Reggie” Miller, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Riverside, California. Miller played college basketball at the University of California, Los Angeles and earned his bachelor’s degree in history. He was selected by the Indiana Pacers in the 1987 NBA Draft and played his entire 18 season professional career with them. Over his career, Miller was a five-time NBA All-Star and the 2004 recipient of the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award which is given to a player, coach, or trainer who shows “outstanding service and dedication to the community.” When he retired, Miller held the record for most career three-point field goals made. Miller also won a Gold medal as a member of the basketball team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. The documentary film “Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks” premiered on ESPN in 2010. Miller was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012. He currently works as a NBA commentator on TNT.

• August 24, 1985 William Venoid Banks, minister, lawyer and broadcast executive, died. Banks was born May 6, 1903 in Geneva, Kentucky. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Detroit City College (now Wayne State University) in 1929 and his law degree from Detroit College of Law in 1930. Banks earned his Doctor of Divinity degree from Detroit Baptist College and was ordained a minister in 1949. In 1950, he founded the International Free and Accepted Masons and Eastern Star. With Banks as the supreme director, the group raised money for numerous projects in the African American community, including establishing vocational schools like the Universal Barber College and International School of Cosmetology. In 1964, Banks and the Masons bought WGPR, an FM radio station. In 1975, they secured a Federal Communications Commission license and bought WGPR-TV, making them the first African Americans to own a television station. At Banks’ funeral, Mayor of Detroit Coleman Young spoke of Banks’ lifelong commitment to Detroit, its citizens, and its future. He said, “He did more than talk about this, he acted on it, he invested in it, and he had the kind of faith that kept this city moving.” Less than a decade later, the Masons sold the station for $24 million. His biography, “A Legacy of Dreams: The Life and Contributions of Dr. William Venoid Banks,” was published in 1999.

• August 24, 1987 Bayard Rustin, civil rights leader and the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, died. Rustin was born March 17, 1912 in West Chester, Pennsylvania. In 1942, Rustin assisted in the founding of the Congress of Racial Equality. A declared pacifist, he was imprisoned from 1944 to 1946 for violating the Selective Service Act. While in prison, he organized protests against the segregated dining facilities. After his release from prison, Rustin was frequently arrested for protesting against British colonial rule in India and Africa. In 1947, he organized the Journey of Reconciliation, the first of the Freedom Rides, to test the Supreme Court ruling that banned racial discrimination in interstate travel. In 1951, he organized the Committee to Support South African Resistance which later became the American Committee on Africa. In 1957, he assisted Martin Luther King, Jr. in organizing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Rustin worked as a human rights and election monitor for Freedom House, a research and advocacy group for democracy, political freedom, and human rights. Several schools and other institutions are named in his honor, including Bayard Rustin High School in West Chester and the Bayard Rustin Social Justice Center in Conway, Arkansas. A number of biographies have been published about Rustin, including “Bayard Rustin: Troubles I’ve Seen” (1997), “Bayard Rustin: Behind the Scenes of the Civil Rights Movement” (1997), and “Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin” (2004).

• August 24, 1998 Charles Cole Diggs, Jr., the first African American congressman from Michigan, died. Diggs was born December 2, 1922 in Detroit, Michigan. After serving in the Air Force during World War II, he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in mortuary science from Wayne State University in 1946. In 1951, Diggs was elected to the Michigan State Senate and in 1954 was elected to the United States House of Representatives. In 1969, Diggs was a key player in the organization of the Congressional Black Caucus. From 1973 to 1978, he chaired the House District Committee which oversaw the affairs of Washington, D.C. During that time, he set in motion the process that led to a Home Rule Charter which allowed D.C. residents to elect their own government. He also chaired the African Affairs Subcommittee where he advocated for the elimination of apartheid in South Africa and U.S. aid to newly independent African nations. TransAfrica, a think tank devoted to African affairs, was founded in Diggs’ office. Diggs resigned from Congress in 1980. Diggs’ biography, “The Untold Story of Charles Diggs: The Public Figure, The Private Man,” was published in 1988.

• August 24, 2003 John Melville Burgess, the first African American diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church, died. Burgess was born March 11, 1909 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He earned his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees in social work from the University Michigan in 1930 and 1931, respectively. He earned his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Episcopal Theological School in 1934. Burgess was ordained to the priesthood in 1935 and later put in charge of a church outside Cincinnati that he described as “the poorest of the poor.” There he administered a social service center, medical clinic, and a day school in an effort to make the church a place that ministered to the whole person. From 1946 to 1956, Burgess served as the first denominational chaplain at Howard University and from 1951 to 1956 he served at the Washington National Cathedral where he used the national pulpit to heighten the social conscience of the Episcopal Church. In 1962, Burgess was elected an assistant bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts and in 1970 he was installed as the diocese’s bishop, making him the first African American to head a diocese. After retiring in 1975, Burgess taught at Yale University’s Berkeley Divinity School and served as board chair at St. Augustine’s College. Burgess received honorary degrees from several colleges and universities, including the University of Michigan. He published his autobiography, “The Reminiscences of an American Scholar,” in 1934.

• August 24, 2011 Esther Gordy Edwards, entrepreneur and founder of the Motown Museum, died. Edwards was born April 25, 1920 in Oconee County, Georgia, but raised in Detroit, Michigan. She attended Wayne State University and Howard University prior to forming the Gordy Printing Company with two of her brothers in the mid-1940s. After her brother Berry started Motown Records, she served in various management positions up to vice president and chief executive officer of the company from the mid-1960s to 1988. She also was the first woman to serve on the boards of Bank of the Commonwealth in 1972 and the Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce in 1973. In 1985, Edwards founded and became director of the Motown Historical Museum, a position she held until just prior to her death.

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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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