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Today in Black History, 8/3/2012

• August 3, 1921 Matthew James Perry, Jr., the first African American from the Deep South appointed to the federal judiciary, was born in Columbia, South Carolina. After serving in the United States Army from 1943 to 1946, Perry earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1948 and his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1951 from South Carolina State College. He served as chief counsel of the NAACP’s South Carolina Conference of Branches and in that capacity argued hundreds of cases that helped desegregate schools, hospitals, restaurants, and other public places, including the integration of Clemson University in 1963. He also served for 16 years on the NAACP national board. In 1976, Perry was appointed to the United States Military Court of Appeals, the second African American to serve on that court. In 1979, he was appointed to the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, becoming South Carolina’s first African American federal judge. He assumed senior status in 1995 and died July 29, 2011. The courthouse in Columbia is named in his honor.

• August 3, 1937 Roland Wallace Burris, the first African American elected to statewide office in Illinois, was born in Centralia, Illinois. Burris earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Southern Illinois University in 1959 and his Juris Doctorate degree from Howard University School of Law in 1963. After graduating from law school, he became the first African American national bank examiner for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency for the United States Treasury Department. From 1964 to 1973, Burris was employed at Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Company and from 1973 to 1977 served as director of the Illinois Department of Central Management Services. In 1978, Burris was elected Illinois Comptroller, a statewide position he held for three terms from 1979 to 1990. In 1990, he was elected Illinois Attorney General, becoming the second African American to hold that post in the United States. He served in that office until 1995. After several unsuccessful runs for other offices, Burris was appointed to fill the Senate seat of President Barack Obama in 2009. Burris did not run for re-election in 2010.

• August 3, 1960 The Republic of Niger gained full independence from France. Niger is located in Western Africa bordered by Nigeria and Benin to the south, Burkino Faso and Mali to the west, Algeria and Libya to the north, and Chad to the east. Niger is approximately 490,000 square miles in size with a population of 15,300,000. More that 80% of Niger’s territory is covered by the Sahara desert and more than 90% of the population is Muslim.

• August 3, 1964 Joan Elizabeth Higginbotham, the third African American woman to go into space, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Higginbotham earned her Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Southern Illinois University in 1987 and her Masters of Management Science and Masters in Space Systems from the Florida Institute of Technology in 1992 and 1996, respectively. She began her career at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1987 as a payload electrical engineer. Within six months, she became the lead for the orbiter experiments on the Space Shuttle Columbia. Two years later, she was promoted to lead orbiter project engineer. Higginbotham was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1996 and from December 9 to December 22, 2006 logged 308 hours in space aboard STS-116. She retired from NASA in 2007, having actively participated in 53 space shuttle launches. Higginbotham now serves as coordinating manager for the corporate social responsibility organization at Marathon Oil Company. She also serves on the board of Afterschool Alliance, a national organization working to ensure that all children have access to affordable, quality afterschool programs. In 2007, Higginbotham received the Adler Planetarium Women in Space Science Award.

• August 3, 2011 Charles Aaron “Bubba” Smith, retired football player and actor, died. Smith was born February 28, 1945 in Orange, Texas. He played college football at Michigan State University where he earned All-America honors in 1965 and 1966. He was selected by the Baltimore Colts in the 1967 NFL Draft and became the first African American selected number one to actually play in a professional game. Over his nine season professional career, Smith was a two-time Pro Bowl selection. In 1988, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and in 2006 his jersey number 95 was retired by Michigan State. After retiring from football, Smith made a number of television and film appearances, including appearing in five of the six “Police Academy” movies.

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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.