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Today in Black History, 8/30/2012

• August 30, 1901 Roy Wilkins, civil rights leader, was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Wilkins earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Minnesota in 1923. In 1931, he became assistant executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. From 1934 to 1949, he served as the editor of the Crisis magazine, the official organ of the organization. In 1955, Wilkins was named executive secretary (renamed director in 1964) of the NAACP. In 1950, he co-founded the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Wilkins participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965, and the March Against Fear in 1966. In 1964, Wilkins was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. In 1969, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Richard M. Nixon. Wilkins retired from the NAACP in 1977 and died on September 8, 1981. His autobiography, “Standing Fast: The Autobiography of Roy Wilkins,” was published in 1982. The Roy Wilkins Centre for Human Relations and Human Justice was established at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs in 1992.

• August 30, 1923 Joseph Lawson Howze, the first black bishop in the 20th century to head a diocese in the United States, was born in Daphne, Alabama. Howze earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Alabama State University in 1948 and taught science in the Mobile Public School System. In 1959, he earned his Doctor of Divinity degree from Christ the King Seminary at St. Bonaventure University and was ordained for the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina. In 1972, Howze was appointed auxiliary bishop of Natchez-Jackson, Mississippi and in 1973 was consecrated to the episcopate. When the Diocese of Biloxi, Mississippi was created, Howze was appointed its bishop on June 6, 1977, making him the first Black bishop in the 20th century to head a diocese in the U.S. Howze retired in 2001.

• August 30, 1948 Fred Hampton, Sr., activist and assassinated Black Panther leader, was born in Chicago, Illinois, but grew up in Maywood, a suburb of Chicago. At an early age, Hampton became active in the NAACP Youth Council, assuming leadership and growing the organization to 500 members. He worked to get more and better recreational facilities established in the neighborhoods and to improve educational resources for the impoverished community. In 1968, Hampton returned to Chicago and joined the Black Panther Party. One of his major accomplishments was the brokering of a nonaggression pact between the city’s most powerful street gangs. When he became leader of the Chicago chapter, he organized weekly rallies, taught political education classes, launched a free breakfast program, and started a project for community supervision of the police. In 1967, the FBI opened a file on Hampton that over the next two years grew to over 4,000 pages. In the pre-dawn hours of December 4, 1969, the Chicago police raided Hampton’s apartment, killing Hampton and Mark Clark and seriously wounding four others, including two females. A federal grand jury determined that the police fired between 82 and 99 shots while most of the occupants were sleep. Only one shot was proven to have come from a Panther gun. Their deaths were chronicled in the 1971 documentary film “The Murder of Fred Hampton.” The families of Hampton and Clark filed a civil suit against the city, state, and federal governments which was eventually settled for $1.85 million. In 2004, the Chicago City Council passed a resolution commemorating December 4, 2004 as “Fred Hampton Day.” A street was named in his honor in Maywood.

• August 30, 1953 Robert Lee Parish, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. Parish played college basketball at Centenary College of Louisiana and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1976. Parish was selected by the Golden State Warriors in the 1976 NBA Draft and traded to the Boston Celtics in 1980. Over his 20 season professional career, Parish was a nine-time All-Star and four-time NBA champion. Parish retired after the 1997 season and in 1998 the Boston Celtics retired his 00 jersey number. In 1996, Parish was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History and in 2003 he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Parrish was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. He holds the record for most games played in the NBA with 1,611. Parish is a Celtic team consultant and mentor to their big men.

• August 30, 1961 James Benton Parsons was appointed to a federal judgeship on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois by President John F. Kennedy, making him the first African American appointed to a lifetime federal judgeship in the U.S. Parsons was born August 13, 1911 in Kansas City, Missouri, but raised in Decatur, Illinois. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Millikin University in 1934 and his Master of Arts degree in political science from the University of Chicago in 1946. Parsons served in the U.S. Navy from 1942 to 1945 and earned his Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Chicago Law School in 1949. From that time to 1961, he was in private practice as well as serving in several public capacities in Illinois. Parsons served on the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois until his retirement in 1992. Parsons died June 19, 1993. Parsons Elementary School in Decatur and the ceremonial courtroom in the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago are named in his honor.

• August 30, 1967 Thurgood Marshall was confirmed as the first African American to serve on the United States Supreme Court. Marshall was born July 2, 1908 in Baltimore, Maryland. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Lincoln University in 1930 and his Bachelor of Laws degree from Howard University School of Law in 1933. In 1934, he began working for the NAACP. He won his first major civil rights case, Murray v. Pearson, in 1936 and his first case before the Supreme Court, Chambers v. Florida, in 1940. In total, he won 29 of 32 cases he argued before that court. His most famous case was the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in which the court ruled that separate, but equal public education could never be truly equal. Marshall was the 1946 recipient of the NAACP Spingarn Medal. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and in 1967 President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to the Supreme Court. Marshall served on the court 24 years, retiring in 1991. Marshall died January 24, 1993 and there are numerous memorials to him around the country, including the main office building of the federal court system which is named in his honor and has a statue of him in the atrium. In 1976, Texas Southern University named their law school after him and in 1980 the University of Maryland School of Law opened the Thurgood Marshall Law Library. In 1993, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President William Clinton. Biographies of Marshall include “Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary” (1998) and “Thurgood Marshall” (2002). Marshall’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• August 30, 1983 Guion Stewart “Guy” Bluford, Jr. became the first African American in space aboard the space shuttle Challenger. Bluford was born November 22, 1942 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Pennsylvania State University in 1964. Bluford then joined the United States Air Force and during the Vietnam War flew 144 combat missions, 65 of which were over North Vietnam. He earned numerous medals and citations for his flying, including an Air Force Commendation medal. After his discharge from the air force, Bluford earned his Master of Science degree in 1974 and a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering in 1978 from the Air Force Institute of Technology. He also earned his Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Houston in 1987. Bluford became an anastronaut with NASA in August, 1979 and over the course of his career participated in four space shuttle flights, logging over 688 hours in space. In 1993, Bluford resigned from NASA to become vice president and general manager of a private engineering services company. He is currently president of an engineering consulting firm. Bluford was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1997 and the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2010.

• August 30, 2003 Webster Anderson, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Anderson was born July 15, 1933 in Winnsboro, South Carolina. He joined the United States Army in 1953 and served during the Korean War. By October 15, 1967, he was serving as a staff sergeant in Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Infantry Division during the Vietnam War. On that day, his actions earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. His citation partially reads, “During the early morning hours Battery A’s defensive position was attacked by a determined North Vietnamese Army infantry unit supported by heavy mortar, recoilless rifle, rocket propelled grenade and automatic weapon fire. The initial onslaught breached the battery defensive perimeter. Sfc. Anderson, with complete disregard for his personal safety, mounted the exposed parapet of his howitzer position and became the mainstay of the defense of the battery position. Sfc. Anderson directed devastating direct howitzer fire on the assaulting enemy while providing rifle and grenade defensive fire against enemy soldiers attempting to overrun his gun section position. While protecting his crew and directing their fire against the enemy from his exposed position, 2 enemy grenades exploded at his feet knocking him down and severely wounding him in the legs. Despite the excruciating pain and through not able to stand, Sfc. Anderson valorously propped himself on the parapet and continued to direct howitzer fire upon the closing enemy and to encourage his men to fight on. Seeing an enemy grenade land within the gun pit near a wounded member of his gun crew, Sfc. Anderson heedless of his own safety, seized the grenade and attempted to throw it over the parapet to save his men. As the grenade was thrown from the position it exploded and Sfc. Anderson was again grievously wounded. Although only partially conscious and severely wounded, Sfc. Anderson refused medical evacuation and continued to encourage his men in the defense of the position. Sfc. Anderson by his inspirational leadership, professionalism, devotion to duty and complete disregard for his welfare was able to maintain the defense of his section position and to defeat a determined enemy attack.” Despite losing both of his legs and part of an arm, Anderson survived his wounds and retired from the army. The medal was presented to him on November 24, 1969 by President Richard M. Nixon.

• August 30, 2009 Marie Roach Knight, gospel and R&B singer, died. Knight was born June 1, 1920 in Sanford, Florida. She first toured with evangelist Frances Robinson. In 1946, she made her first recordings as a member of The Sunset Four. That same year, Knight met Sister Rosetta Tharp and they performed and recorded together until 1951, recording such hits as “Up Above My Head” (1948) and “Gospel Train” (1949). Knight went solo in 1951 and in 1956 recorded the album “Songs of the Gospel.” In the late 1950s, Knight began to record secular music with her biggest hit being “Cry Me a River” in 1965. She also toured with Brook Benton, The Drifters, and Clyde McPhatter. In the mid-1970s, Knight returned to gospel music and recorded “Marie Knight: Today” (1975) and “Let Us Get Together” (2007).

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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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