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Today in Black History, 8/27/2012

• August 27, 1884 Rose Virginia Scott McClendon, a leading Broadway actress of the 1920s, was born in Greenville, South Carolina. McClendon started acting in church plays as a child, but did not become a professional actress until she won a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Art when she was in her thirties. McClendon made her stage debut in the 1919 play “Justice.” She was one of the few black actresses who worked consistently in the 1920s and was considered “the Negro first lady of the dramatic stage,” appearing in productions such as “Deep River” (1926), “Porgy” (1928), and “Mulatto” (1936). In 1935, McClendon co-founded the Negro People’s Theatre in Harlem. She died July 12, 1936 and in 1937 the Rose McClendon Players was established in her honor.

• August 27, 1909 Lester Willis Young, hall of fame jazz tenor saxophonist and clarinetist, was born in Woodville, Mississippi. Young played in his family’s band on the vaudeville and carnival circuit. He left the family band in 1927 because he refused to play in the South where Jim Crow laws were in effect. In 1933, Young settled in Kansas City, Kansas where he rose to prominence playing in the Count Basie Orchestra. He left the Basie band in 1940 and subsequently led a number of small groups. In 1944, Young was inducted into the United States Army where, unlike many white musicians who were placed in army bands, he was placed in the regular army and not allowed to play his saxophone. After the discovery of alcohol and marijuana in his possession and the fact that he was married to a white woman, Young was dishonorably discharged from the army. His career after World War II was far more prolific and lucrative than in prior years in terms of records made, live performances, and annual income. In December, 1957, Young appeared in the CBS television production “The Sound of Jazz.” Young died March 15, 1959 and was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame that year. His playing style has influenced many other tenor saxophonists, including Dexter Gordon and Gerry Mulligan. There are a number of biographies of Young, including “Lester Young Profession: President” (1987) and “You Just Fight For Your Life: The Story of Lester Young” (1990).

• August 27, 1918 Simeon Booker, award winning journalist, was born in Maryland, but raised in Youngstown, Ohio. While in high school, Booker wrote stories that were published in the Baltimore Afro American newspaper. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Virginia Union University in 1942. In 1952, Booker became the first black reporter for The Washington Post. In 1953, he joined Johnson Publications and for 48 years served as Jet Magazine’s Washington Bureau Chief. He is best known for his coverage of the 1955 murder of Emmett Till and the subsequent trial. Booker retired in 2007 and has been recognized with numerous awards, including the Newspaper Guild Award and a Wilkie Award. In 1982, he became the first African American journalist to win the National Press Club’s Fourth Estate Award for lifetime contributions to journalism.

• August 27, 1939 Donald Russell Long, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Blackfork, Ohio. Long joined the United States Army in 1963 and by 1966 was serving as a sergeant in Troop C, 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division in the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. He earned the medal, America’s highest military decoration, for his actions on June 30, 1966. His citation partially reads, “while conducting a reconnaissance mission along a road were suddenly attacked by a Viet Cong regiment, supported by mortars, recoilless rifles and machine guns, from concealed positions astride the road. Sgt. Long abandoned the relative safety of his armored personnel carrier and braved a withering hail of enemy fire to carry wounded men to evacuation helicopters. As the platoon fought its way forward to resupply advanced elements, Sgt. Long repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire at point blank range to provide the needed supplies. While assaulting the Viet Cong position, Sgt. Long inspired his comrades by fearlessly standing unprotected to repel the enemy with rifle fire and grenades as they attempted to mount his carrier. When the enemy threatened to overrun a disabled carrier nearby, Sgt. Long again disregarded his own safety to help the severely wounded crew to safety. As he was handing arms to the less wounded and reorganizing them to press the attack, an enemy grenade was hurled onto the carrier deck. Immediately recognizing the imminent danger, he instinctively shouted a warning to the crew and pushed to safety one man who had not heard his warning over the roar of battle. Realizing that these actions would not fully protect the exposed crewmen from the deadly explosion, he threw himself over the grenade to absorb the blast and thereby save the lives of 8 of his comrades at the expense of his life.” The medal was presented to his family on April 4, 1968.

• August 27, 1941 Cesaria Evora, Grammy Award winning singer, was born in Mindelo, Cape Verde. Evora began singing at a young age, but her early recordings were unsuccessful. In 1988, she went to Paris, France and released her debut album, “La Diva Aux Pieds Nus (The Barefoot Diva).” Evora continued to record in Paris and in 1993 released her first smash hit “Miss Perfumado” which was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best World Music Album in 1999. Other Grammy-nominated albums by Evora include “Cesaria” (1995), “Cabo Verde” (1997), “Café Atlantico” (1999), and “Sao Vicente di Longe” ((2001). In 2004, she won the Grammy Award for Best World Music Album for “Voz d’Amor.” Evora died December 17, 2011.

• August 27, 1961 Yolanda Yvette Adams, Grammy Award winning gospel music singer and author, was born in Houston, Texas. After graduating from Texas Southern University with a teaching degree, Adams began a career as a schoolteacher and part-time model. In 1987, she released her debut album, “Just as I Am.” Adams has followed that with a series of albums, including two that have won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album, “Mountain High….Valley Low” (1999) and “The Experience” (2001). In 2009, Billboard Magazine named her Gospel Artist of the Decade and in 2010, Adams released her first book, “Points of Power.” Adams’ most recent album, “Becoming,” was released in 2011. Since 2007, she has hosted “The Yolanda Adams Morning Show” which airs on Radio One.

• August 27, 1963 William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, civil rights activist, historian and author, died. Du Bois was born February 23, 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. In 1888, Du Bois earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Fisk University. He then went to Harvard University where he earned another Bachelor of Arts degree cum laude in 1890, his Master of Arts degree in 1891, and in 1895 became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from the university. Du Bois authored 22 books, including “The Philadelphia Negro” (1899), “The Souls of Black Folk” (1903), and “Black Folk, Then and Now” (1939), and helped establish four academic journals. Du Bois was the most prominent intellectual leader and political activist on behalf of African Americans in the first half of the 20th century. In 1909, he helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and for 25 years served as the editor-in- chief of The Crisis magazine. Du Bois was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 1920. In 1963, Du Bois and his wife became citizens of Ghana where he died. After his death, the Ghanaian government honored him with a state funeral and the W.E.B. Du Bose Memorial Centre is located in the Cantonments district of Accra. In 1992, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor. A number of biographies have been written about Du Bois, including David Levering Lewis’ “W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868 – 1919” which was the winner of the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. Du Bois’ name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• August 27, 1963 Garrett Augustus Morgan, Sr., inventor and entrepreneur, died. Morgan was born March 4, 1877 in Paris, Kentucky. In 1895, he moved to Cleveland, Ohio where he worked repairing sewing machines for a clothing manufacturer. In 1907, he opened his own sewing machine and shoe repair shop and in 1908 helped to found the Cleveland Association of Colored Men. On October 13, 1914, Morgan received patent number 1,113,675 for the safety hood and smoke protector and became nationally known when he used it in 1916 to save several men in a tunnel explosion under Lake Erie. Morgan was awarded a Medal of Bravery by the citizens of Cleveland, but was denied the Carnegie Medal, which is awarded to civilians who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree saving or attempting to save the lives of others, due to his race. On November 20, 1923, Morgan received patent number 1,475,024 for his version of the traffic signal. In Cleveland, the Garrett Morgan Treatment Plant and the Garrett A. Morgan Cleveland School of Science are named in his honor. “Garrett A. Morgan: American Negro Inventor” was published in 1969. Morgan’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• August 27, 1975 Emperor Haile Selassie I died in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Selassie was born Tafari Makonnen on July 23, 1892 in Ejersa Goro, Ethiopia. He was Ethiopia’s Regent from 1916 to 1930 and Emperor from 1930 to 1974. His internationalist views led Ethiopia to become a charter member of the United Nations and in 1936 Time magazine named him “Man of the Year” because of his anti-Fascist positions. As the result of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, Selassie lived in exile from 1936 to 1941. In 1963, he presided over the establishment of the Organization of African Unity. Selassie was deposed as head of state on September 12, 1974 and imprisoned where he died under mysterious circumstances. His autobiography, “My Life and Ethiopia’s Progress: The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Selassie I,” was published in 1999. Today the Rastafarian movement view Haile Selassie as a messianic figure who will lead the peoples of African and the African diaspora to a golden age of peace, righteousness, and prosperity.

• August 27, 1979 Norman W. Lewis, painter, scholar and educator, died. Lewis was born July 23, 1909 in Harlem, New York. Always interested in art, he had amassed a large art history library by the time he was a young man. His early paintings were mostly figurative, including “Meeting Place” (1930), “The Yellow Hat” (1936), and “Dispossed” (1940). In the late 1940s, his work became increasingly abstract, including “Tenement I” (1952), “Harlem Turns White” (1955), and “Night Walker No. 2” (1956). His painting “Migrating Birds” (1954) won the Popular Prize at the 1955 Carnegie International Exhibition. In 1953, Lewis was a founding member of the SPIRAL Group which sought to define how African American artists could contribute to the Civil Rights Movement. In 1972, Lewis received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and in 1975 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship. Lewis’ paintings are in the collections of numerous major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Art Institute of Chicago.

• August 27, 1996 Francis Gregory Alan Morris, television and movie actor, died. Morris was born September 27, 1933 in Cleveland, Ohio. He began his acting career in the early 1960s with guest appearances on television shows such as “The Twilight Zone” and “Ben Casey.” In September, 1966, he was cast in his most memorable role as the electronics expert in “Mission Impossible.” After that series was cancelled in March, 1973, Morris continued to appear in movies and make guest television appearances until he was cast in the television series “Vega$” in 1978. That series aired until 1981.

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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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