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Today in Black History, 8/4/2012

• August 4, 1810 Robert Purvis, abolitionist, was born in Charleston, South Carolina. Although Purvis and his brothers were three-quarters European by ancestry and inherited considerable wealth from their native English father, they chose to identify with the black community and use their education and wealth to support the abolition of slavery and educational projects for the advancement of African Americans. In 1833, Purvis helped abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison establish the American Anti-Slavery Society and from 1845 to 1850 he served as president of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. By his account, Purvis estimated that from 1831 to 1861 he helped one enslaved person per day escape to the North. In 1883, Purvis co-edited “The History of the Underground Railroad in Chester and Neighboring Counties of Pennsylvania. Purvis died April 15, 1898. His biography, “But One Race: The Life of Robert Purvis,” was published in 2007.

• August 4, 1816 Macon Bolling Allen, the first African American to practice law in the United States and the first black Justice of the Peace, was born Allen Macon Bolling in Indiana. Allen grew up a free man and learned to read and write on his own. In the early 1840s, he moved to Portland, Maine. After passing the law exam and earning his recommendation, he was given his license to practice law July 3, 1844. However, because white people were unwilling to have a black man represent them in court, in 1845 Allen moved to Boston, Massachusetts. Allen passed the Massachusetts bar exam that year and he and Robert Morris, Jr. opened the first black law office in the U.S. In 1948, Allen passed another exam to become Justice of the Peace for Middlesex County. After the Civil War, Allen moved to Charleston, South Carolina and in 1873 was appointed Judge in the Inferior Court of Charleston. The next year, he was elected Judge Probate for Charleston County. Later, Allen moved to Washington, D.C. where he worked as an attorney for the Land and Improvement Association. Allen practiced law until his death on June 11, 1894. The New York Bar Association and a civil rights clinic in Boston are named in his honor.

• August 4, 1901 Louis Daniel “Satchmo” “Pops” Armstrong, hall of fame jazz trumpeter and singer, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. As a teenager, Armstrong played with and was mentored by Joe “King” Oliver and in 1922 he moved to Chicago, Illinois to join Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. Armstrong came to prominence in the mid-1920s as an innovative cornet and trumpet player, shifting jazz’s focus from collective improvisation to solo performers. With his distinctive voice, Armstrong was also an influential singer and by the 1960s his influence extended beyond jazz to popular music in general. Armstrong had many hit records, including “Hello Dolly,” which in 1965 won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year and Armstrong the Grammy Award for Best Vocal Performance, Male, and “What A Wonderful World” (1968) which was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 as a recording of “qualitative or historical significance.” In addition to those two recordings, Armstrong has nine other recordings in the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 1952, he was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. Armstrong died July 6, 1971 and in 1972 was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1990, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1995, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor. Today the house where Armstrong lived for almost 28 years is a National Historic Landmark and the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, New York. The Louis Armstrong New Orleans Airport is named in his honor. Armstrong published his autobiography, “Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans,” in 1954. Other biographies include “The Louis Armstrong Story, 1900 – 1971” (1971) and “Louis Armstrong: An American Genius” (1985).

• August 4, 1913 Robert Hayden, the first African American Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress, was born Asa Bundy Sheffey in Detroit, Michigan. Hayden earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish from Detroit City College (Wayne State University) in 1936 and his Master of Arts degree from the University of Michigan in 1944. He published his first book of poetry, “Heart-Shape in the Dust,” in 1940. Other books of poetry include “A Ballad of Remembrance” (1962), which won the grand prize for poetry at the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Senegal in 1966, “Words in the Mourning Time” (1970), and “Angle of Ascent: New and Selected Poems” (1975). His work often addressed the plight of African Americans and was sometimes political, including a series of poems on the Vietnam War. In 1976, he was appointed Consultant in Poetry, later renamed Poet Laureate, to the Library of Congress. Hayden taught at Michigan from 1944 to 1946, Fisk University from 1946 to 1969, and returned to Michigan from 1969 to his death on February 25, 1980. His biography, “From the Auroral Darkness: The Life and Poetry of Robert Hayden,” was published in 1984.

• August 4, 1931 Daniel Hale Williams, the first African American cardiologist in the United States, died. Williams was born January 18, 1856 in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Chicago Medical College (now Northwestern University Medical School) in 1883. In 1891, he founded Provident Hospital, the first integrated hospital in the United States, and training school for nurses in Chicago, Illinois. In 1893, Williams performed an operation on a man that had been stabbed in the chest. The operation required that he open the man’s chest and close the wound around the heart. This is often noted as the first successful surgery on the heart. In 1895, he co-founded the National Medical Association for black doctors. In 1913, he became a charter member, and the only black member, in the American College of Surgeons. Williams received honorary degrees from Howard and Wilberforce Universities. Biographies of Williams include “Daniel Hale Williams: Negro Surgeon” (1968) and “Daniel Hale Williams: Open Heart Doctor” (1970). The Daniel Hale Williams Preparatory School of Medicine in Chicago is named in his honor.

• August 4, 1938 Hayes Wendell Jones, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in Starkville, Mississippi, but raised in Pontiac, Michigan. He ran track for Eastern Michigan University where he won the NCAA Championships in the 110 meter and 220 meter hurdles. Jones also earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from EMU in 1961. Jones also won the AAU 110 meter hurdle championships in 1958, 1960, 1961, 1963, and 1964. Jones won the 110 meter Bronze medal at the 1960 Olympic Games and the 110 meter Gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. He was also part of a 100 meter relay team that set a world record in 1961. After retiring from competition, Jones became a successful businessman and an active participant in community affairs. From 2005 to 2006, he served as director of the Oakland County, Michigan Department of Economic Development & Community Affairs and from 2007 to 3010 he was general manager of the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation, the public transit operator serving suburban Detroit, Michigan. Jones has also served on the boards of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Pontiac School District. He was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1976 and the Hayes Jones Community Center in Pontiac is named in his honor.

• August 4, 1958 Gregory Foster, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Foster ran track for the University of California, Los Angeles where he was the NCAA outdoor champion in the 110 meter hurdles in 1978 and 1980 and the NCAA champion in the 200 meter race in 1979. Foster also earned his bachelor’s degree from UCLA in 1981. Foster won ten United States national titles, four outdoors in the 110 meter hurdles and six indoors at shorter hurdle events. In 1985, he broke the world indoor record for the 50 meter hurdles and tied that mark in 1987. Foster won the Silver medal in the 110 meter hurdles at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. Foster was ranked among the top ten 110 meter hurdlers in the world 15 times, a record for a running event, and he was number one five times. Foster retired from competition in 1993 and was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1998.

• August 4, 1961 Barack Hussein Obama II, the first African American President of the United States, was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. Obama earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science with a specialty in international relations from Columbia University in 1983. From 1985 to 1988, he worked as a community organizer for the Developing Communities Project. In 1991, Obama earned his Juris Doctorate degree magna cum laude from Harvard Law School where he was elected the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. From 1992 to 2004, he taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School. In 1996, Obama was elected to the Illinois State Senate where he served until 2004. In 2004, he was elected to the United States Senate where he served until he was elected President of the United States in 2008. Obama has authored several books, including “Dreams from My Father” (1995) and “The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream” (2006). In 2009, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people.

• August 4, 1996 Willard Jesse Brown, hall of fame Negro League baseball player, died. Brown was born June 26, 1915 in Shreveport, Louisiana. He began his professional baseball career in 1934. In 1936, he joined the Kansas City Monarchs with whom he played until 1944 when he joined the army. During that time he established himself as a powerful hitter, hitting more home runs than Josh Gibson. In fact, Gibson nicknamed him “Home Run Brown.” Brown also regularly had a batting average over .350. Brown briefly played in the major leagues with the St. Louis Browns in 1947 and was the first black player to hit a home run in the American League. Brown retired from baseball in 1956 and moved to Houston, Texas. He was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

• August 4, 2005 Little Milton, hall of fame blues singer, guitarist and record producer, died. Milton was born James Milton Campbell, Jr. on September 7, 1934 in Inverness, Mississippi. By the age of 12, he had learned to play the guitar and was a street musician performing in clubs across the Mississippi Delta. In 1952, he signed a contract and recorded a number of singles that were not successful. In 1958, Milton established Bobbin Records and produced records for Albert King and Fontella Bass. Milton had his own first hit single in 1962 with “So Mean to Me.” This was followed by such hits as “We’re Gonna Make It” (1965), “Who’s Cheating Who” (1965), “Grits Ain’t Groceries” (1969), and “Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number” (1983). In 1988, Milton was the W.C. Handy Blues Entertainer of the Year and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

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The Wright Museum

Welcome to the world's largest institution dedicated to the African American experience! The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History 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. Some of the museum’s features include:

• 125,000 square feet and seven exhibition areas devoted to African Americans and their stories

• The Children’s Discovery Room, an interactive, multimedia experience for preschool through 3rd grade students

• The Louise Lovett Wright Library and Robert L. Hurst Research Center

• "Ring of Genealogy," a 37-foot terrazzo tile creation by artist Hubert Massey surrounded by bronze nameplates of prominent African Americans

• The Ford Freedom Rotunda and its 65-foot high glass dome; this architectural wonder is two feet wider than the State Capitol dome

• The General Motors Theater, a 317 seat facility for film, live performances, lectures, and presentations

• A museum store that sells authentic African art, books, and other merchandise.

Founded in 1965 by Detroit obstetrician Dr. Charles Wright, the 125,000-square foot Wright Museum is located in the heart of Midtown Detroit's Cultural Center, next to the Michigan Science Center and one block from the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). Key to the experience is "And Still We Rise: Our Journey Through African American History and Culture," the museum's 22,000-square foot, interactive core exhibit, which attracts and enthralls thousands of visitors per year. Thousands more enjoy a wide array of spectacular events including concerts, film screenings, lectures, performances, community health and fitness classes, and so much more! All told, The Wright serves close to a half million people per year through its exhibits, programs, rentals, websites, and annual events such as African World Festival.

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