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Today in Black History, 8/26/2012

• August 26, 1843 Norbert Rillieux of New Orleans, Louisiana was granted patent number 3237 for the multiple-effect evaporation system for refining sugar. His invention addressed all of the shortcomings of prior sugar refining processes and by 1849 thirteen Louisiana sugar factories were using his invention. His invention was an important development in the growth of the sugar industry. Rillieux was born March 17, 1806 in New Orleans, Louisiana. As a Creole from a prominent family, he had access to education and privileges not available to many other Blacks. In the early 1820s, he traveled to Paris to attend the prestigious Ecole Centrale, studying physics, mechanics, and engineering. He became an expert in steam engines and published several papers about the use of steam to work devices. At the age of 24, Rillieux became the youngest teacher at Ecole Centrale. While in France, Rillieux started researching ways to improve the sugar refining process and after returning to the United States in 1833 he began to develop the machine for which he was granted the patent. In the 1850s, Rillieux presented a plan to the government of New Orleans to eliminate the moist breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that were causing a Yellow Fever outbreak. His plan was turned down. Several years later, as the Yellow Fever outbreak continued, the city accepted a plan from White engineers that was similar to the plan proposed by Rillieux. In the late 1850s, Rillieux returned to France where he died on October 8, 1894.

• August 26, 1867 Robert Russa Moton, educator and author, was born in Amelia County, Virginia. Moton graduated from Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in 1890 and from 1891 to 1915 served as an administrator there. After the death of Booker T. Washington in 1915, Moton was named principal of Tuskegee Institute, a position he held until his retirement in 1935. In 1932, Moton received the NAACP Spingarn Medal. Moton published two books, “Finding a Way Out” in 1920 and “What the Negro Thinks” in 1929. Moten died May 31, 1940.Moton Field, the initial training base for the Tuskegee Airmen, was named in his honor and in 1998 the former R. R. Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia was named a National Historic Site. It now houses the Robert Russa Moton Museum, a center for the study of civil rights in education. The Robert Russa Morton Charter School in New Orleans, Louisiana is also named in his honor.

• August 26, 1900 Hale Aspacio Woodruff, artist and educator, was born in Cairo, Illinois. In 1928, Woodruff moved to Paris, France and studied under Henry Ossawa Tanner. Woodruff returned to the United States in 1931 to teach at Atlanta University. One of Woodruff’s major contributions to the development of African American art and artists was the inauguration in 1942 of an annual exhibition devoted to the works of Black artists from around the country at Atlanta University. The annual exhibition ran successfully until 1970. In 1946, Woodruff accepted a teaching position at New York University where he taught until his retirement in 1968. Woodruff died on September 6, 1980. Examples of his work are the three-panel mural “Amistad Mutiny” (1939) at Talladega College and the six-panel mural “The Art of the Negro” (1950) at Atlanta University. “Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals from Talladega College” is currently on exhibit at museums around the country.

• August 26, 1905 George Washington, a leading African American pioneer of the Pacific Northwest and the founder of the town of Centralia, Washington, died. Washington was born August 15, 1817 in Frederick County, Virginia. The son of a formerly enslaved man and a woman of English descent, he was raised by a white couple. That couple and Washington moved to the northwest to claim land. Washington could not buy land because he was Black, therefore the couple bought the land and Washington later repaid them. Washington built a home and filed a plat for the town of Centerville (now Centralia), offering lots for $10 each. Washington died after Centralia had grown to a large and prosperous town. Today, the city has a population of almost 15,000 with 90% White and less than 1% African American.

• August 26, 1913 Edward Lee Baker, Jr., Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Baker was born December 28, 1865 in Laramie County, Wyoming. On July 1, 1898, while serving as a sergeant major in the United States Army at Santiago, Cuba during the Spanish – American War, Baker “left cover under fire and rescued a wounded comrade from drowning.” In recognition of his actions, he was awarded the medal, America’s highest military decoration, on July 3, 1902. After the war, Baker was promoted to captain and put in command of the 49th Infantry. He retired from the military in 1902. Not much else is known of Baker’s life.

• August 26, 1918 Katherine G. Johnson, physicist, space scientist, and mathematician, was born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Johnson earned her Bachelor of Science degree summa cum laude in French and mathematics from West Virginia State College in 1936. Johnson worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration with the tracking teams of manned and unmanned orbital missions. As a member of NASA’s 1961 team, her calculations placed the United States first astronaut right on target. She also charted the course for John Glenn in 1962 and Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, in 1969. For her pioneering work in the field of navigation problems, Johnson was the recipient of the Group Achievement Award presented to NASA’s Lunar Spacecraft and Operations team. Johnson retired from NASA in 1986 and received the West Virginia State College Outstanding Alumnus of the Year award in 1999.

• August 26, 1946 Valerie Simpson, hall of fame songwriter and recording artist, was born in The Bronx, New York. In 1963, Simpson met Nickolas Ashford in New York City and they began to perform and compose together. Songs that they wrote during that time include “Cry like a Baby” for Aretha Franklin and “Let’s Go Get Stoned” for Ray Charles. In 1966, they joined Motown Records where they wrote and/or produced a number of hits, including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” for Diana Ross, and “Who’s Gonna Take the Blame” for Smoky Robinson & The Miracles. They also had hits with Teddy Pendergrass with “Is It Still Good to You” and Chaka Khan with “I’m Every Woman.” In 1973, Ashford and Simpson left Motown and resumed their recording career. They had several hits, including “Don’t Cost You Nothin’” (1977), “Is It Still Good to Ya” (1978), and “Solid” (1984). The duo continued to record and tour until Ashford’s death. They were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002.

• August 26, 1947 Daniel Robert Bankhead became the first black pitcher in major league baseball when he made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Bankhead was born May 3, 1920 in Empire, Alabama. After a strong career in the Negro league, he was signed at age 24 to play for Brooklyn. An excellent hitter, Bankhead hit a home run in his first major league at bat against the Pittsburg Pirates. Unfortunately, his pitching career was not as successful with a career record of nine wins, six losses and a 6.52 earned run average. Bankhead died May 2, 1976.

• August 26, 1955 King Solomon White, hall of fame Negro league baseball player, manager, executive and author, died. White was born June 12, 1868 in Bellaire, Ohio. He joined the Pittsburgh Keystones of the National Colored Baseball League in 1887, starting a playing career that lasted until 1912. White made a name for himself in the predominantly White minor leagues before Blacks were excluded from playing. He was instrumental in the 1902 formation of the Philadelphia Giants and the later development and operation of various leagues. In 1907, his book “Sol White’s History of Colored Baseball” was published, the first definitive history of Black baseball. White spent most of his remaining years as a journalist for African American newspapers and was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

• August 26, 1960 Branford Marsalis, saxophonist, composer, bandleader, and educator, was born in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. In 1980, while still a Berklee College of Music student, Marsalis toured Europe playing saxophone in a large ensemble led by drummer Art Blakey. In 1981, he joined his brother Wynton in Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. His primary focus since 1996 has been on his own quartet, classical performance, and education. The Branford Marsalis Quartet has toured and recorded extensively. They received Grammy Awards for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group in 1992 for “I Heard You Twice the First Time” and in 2001 for “Contemporary Jazz.” Marsalis has also become involved in education at the university level with appointments at Michigan State University, San Francisco State University, and North Carolina Central University. After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr. created the concept of a musician’s village in the Upper Ninth Ward, with the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music as the village’s centerpiece. This project has provided dozens of musicians of modest means with the opportunity to own decent, affordable housing. Marsalis was nominated for the 2010 Tony Award for Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theater for the Broadway play “Fences.” In 2011, Marsalis, with his father and brothers, were designated as a group NEA Jazz Masters, the highest honor that the nation bestows on jazz artists, by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2012, he received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the University of North Carolina.

• August 26, 2002 William Caesar Warfield, concert bass-baritone singer and actor, died. Warfield was born January 22, 1920 in West Helina, Arkansas. He earned his Bachelor of Music degree from the Eastman School of Music and had his recital debut in 1950. In 1952, he performed in “Porgy and Bess” during a tour of Europe sponsored by the United States State Department. This was the first of six tours he did for the department, more than any other solo artist. Warfield was also an accomplished actor, appearing in the television production of “Green Pastures” (1957 and 1959) and the film “Show Boat” (1951). Warfield was active with the National Association of Negro Musicians, serving as president for two terms. In 1975, Warfield was appointed professor of music at the University of Illinois. He later became chairman of the Voice Department before moving to Northwestern University’s School of Music where he served until his death. In 1984, he won the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Recording for his narration of “Lincoln Portrait.” Warfield published his autobiography, “William Warfield: My Music and My Life,” in 1991.

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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.