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Today in Black History, 8/7/2012

• August 7, 1867 Ira Frederick Aldridge, stage actor, died. Aldridge was born July 24, 1807 in New York City. He was educated at the New York African Free School where he developed an interest in the theater. In 1826, Aldridge immigrated to England because of the persistent disparagement and harassment that black actors had to endure in the United States. In England and on tours throughout Europe, Aldridge established himself in many roles, including several written as white characters. Aldridge never returned to the U.S. and died in Poland where his grave is tended by the Society of Polish Artists of Film and Theatre. He received awards from many European heads of state, including the Prussian Gold Medal for Arts and Sciences, the Golden Cross of Leopold, and the Maltese Cross. Also, Aldridge is the only actor of African descent among the 33 actors of the English stage with bronze plaques at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon. Aldridge’s biography, “Ira Aldridge: The Negro Tragedian,” was published in 1968. “Ira Aldridge: The African Roscius,” a collection of essays that examine his extraordinary achievements against all odds, was published in 2007.

• August 7, 1886 Moses Aaron Hopkins, clergyman and educator, died. Hopkins was born enslaved on December 25, 1846 in Montgomery County, Virginia. During the Civil War, he worked as a cook in Union Army camps. He learned to read at the age of 20, graduated from Lincoln University, and enrolled at Auburn Theological Seminary. Hopkins earned his degree in theology in 1877, making him the first African American graduate of the seminary, and was ordained by the Presbyterian Church that same year. Hopkins eventually settled in Franklinton, North Carolina where he founded Mt. Pleasant Presbyterian Church and Albion Academy. In 1885, President Grover Cleveland appointed him United States Minister (ambassador) to Liberia where he served until his death. A historical marker in his honor was unveiled in Franklinton in 1959.

• August 7, 1894 Joseph Lee of Auburndale, Massachusetts received patent number 524,042 for an improved dough-kneading machine for use in hotels. He also received patent number 540,553 on June 4, 1895 for a machine that made bread crumbs. Lee sold the rights for that machine to the Royal Worchester Bread Crumb Company and the machine was soon in major restaurants around the world. Lee was born July 19, 1849 in Boston, Massachusetts and began working in a bakery as a boy. He soon began preparing and serving food, eventually opening two successful restaurants. For 17 years beginning in the late 1890s, he owned the Woodland Park Hotel in Newton, Massachusetts. In 1902, he opened the Lee Catering Company which served the wealthy population of Boston. At the same time, he also operated the Squantum Inn, a summer resort that specialized in seafood. Lee died in 1905.

• August 7, 1904 Ralph Johnson Bunche, political scientist and diplomat, was born in Detroit, Michigan. Bunche earned his Bachelor of Arts degree summa cum laude from the University of California and was valedictorian of the class of 1927. He earned his Master of Arts degree in political science in 1928 and his Ph.D. in 1934 from Harvard University, making him the first African American to gain a doctorate in political science from an American university. Bunche chaired the Department of Political Science at Howard University from 1928 to 1950. At the close of World War II, Bunche was active in preliminary planning for the United Nations where he, along with Eleanor Roosevelt, was instrumental in the creation and adoption of the United Nation Declaration of Human Rights. In 1947, Bunche became involved with the Arab-Israeli conflict and as a result of achieving the 1949 Armistice Agreements received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950. Bunche was the 1949 recipient of the NAACP Spingarn Medal and in 1963 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President John F. Kennedy. Bunche died December 9, 1971. In 1982, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor. Also, there is a bust of Bunche at the entrance of Bunche Hall at UCLA, the Ralph J. Bunche Library at the United States Department of State, Ralph Bunche Park in New York City, and numerous schools around the country named after him. Several biographies have been published about Bunche, including “Ralph Bunche: The Man and His Times” (1990), “Ralph Bunche: An American Life” (1993), and “Ralph Bunche: Model Negro or American Other?” (1999). Bunche’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• August 7, 1922 Ernest C. Withers, photojournalist, was born in Memphis, Tennessee. Withers worked as a photographer in the United States Army during World War II and opened a studio in Memphis when he returned. He also worked for three years as one of the first African American police officers in Memphis. Withers documented the Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s through the 1960s. In the 1950s, he also photographed such baseball icons as Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays and the early performances of Elvis Presley, B. B. King, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin. His photographs appeared in Time and Newsweek magazines, the New York Times and Washington Post newspapers, and the PBS documentary “Eyes on the Prize.” Many of them are collected in four books, “Let Us March On” (1992), “Pictures Tell the Story: Ernest C. Withers Reflections in History” (2000), “The Memphis Blues Again: Six Decades of Memphis Music Photographs” (2001), and “Negro League Baseball” (2005). Withers died October 15, 2007.

• August 7, 1930 Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith were lynched in Marion, Indiana. Shipp and Smith had been arrested and charged with robbing and murdering a white factory worker and raping his girlfriend. A mob of townspeople broke into the jail, beat the two men and hanged them. Police officers cooperated in the lynching. A picture of the lynching was widely circulated and included in the exhibition “Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America” which was on exhibit at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan in 2004. The picture also inspired the poem “Strange Fruit” (1936) by Abel Meeropol. The poem later became the lyrics for the song of the same name popularized by Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. A third African American man, James Cameron, had also been arrested and narrowly escaped being lynched. Cameron went on to found America’s Black Holocaust Museum which is dedicated to the history of lynching in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1988. Cameron died June 11, 2006.

• August 7, 1932 Maurice Farnandis Rabb, Jr., ophthalmologist who did pioneering work in cornea and retinal vascular diseases, was born in Shelbyville, Kentucky. Rabb earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Louisville in 1954 and a medical degree in 1958 from the University of Louisville School of Medicine. He studied ophthalmology at New York University and became the first African American resident of the University of Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary. From 1971 to 2005, Rabb served as chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at Mercy Hospital. From 1972 to 1987, he was the medical director of the Illinois Eye Bank and Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois, the first African American to be a medical director of an eye bank in the United States. In 1972, Rabb founded the Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center. There, he led research that helped prevent retinal detachment and blindness in sickle cell patients. Rabb died June 6, 2005 and annually the National Medical Association awards the Rabb Venable Ophthalmology Award for Outstanding Research to students and residents for the best research presentations.

• August 7, 1932 Abebe Bikila, two-time Olympic marathon champion, was born in Jato, Ethiopia. At the 1960 Rome Olympic Games, Bikila won the marathon in world record time, becoming the first black African to win an Olympic Gold medal. At the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, he again won the marathon in world record time, becoming the first athlete in history to win the Olympic marathon twice. In 1969, Bikila was involved in a car accident which left him a paraplegic. He died October 23, 1973 and Emperor Haile Selassie I proclaimed a national day of mourning. A stadium in Addis Ababa is named in his honor. Since 1978, the New York Road Runners have annually presented the Abebe Bikila Award to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the sport of distance running.

• August 7, 1935 Rahsaan Roland Kirk, hall of fame jazz multi-instrumentalist, was born Ronald Theodore Kirk in Columbus, Ohio. Kirk went blind at an early age due to poor medical treatment. He added “Rahsaan” to his name in 1970 after hearing it in a dream. Kirk played various saxophones, clarinets, and flutes, often modifying them to accommodate his playing technique. Preferring to lead his own bands, Kirk rarely performed as a sideman. His many recordings include “Triple Threat” (1956), “The Inflated Tear” (1967), and “Kirkatron” (1977). Kirk was also very political, using the stage to talk on black history, civil rights, and other issues. He died on December 5, 1977 and was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1978. His biography, “Bright Moments: The Life and Legacy of Rahsaan Roland Kirk,” was published in 2000.

• August 7, 1945 Alan Cedric Page, hall of fame football player and judge, was born in Canton, Ohio. Page played college football at the University of Notre Dame and led them to the national championship in 1966. That same year he was named All-American. In 1967, Page earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and was selected by Minnesota Vikings in the NFL Draft. Over his 15 season professional career, Page was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, 1970 and 1971 Defensive Player of the Year, and the 1971 Most Valuable Player, the first defensive player to be named MVP. Page retired in 1981 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1993. In 1978, Page earned his Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from the University of Minnesota Law School. In 1985, he was appointed Assistant Attorney General for the State of Minnesota and in 1992 he was elected to the Minnesota Supreme Court, the first African American to serve on that court. Page continues to serve as an associate justice on that court. In 1988, Page founded the Page Education Foundation to provide financial and mentoring assistance to minority college students. To date, the foundation has awarded grants to 4,500 students. In 2001, Page was named to the Academic All-American Hall of Fame and in 2005 he was awarded the National Football Foundation Distinguished American Award. Page has received numerous honorary degrees from institutions such as University of Notre Dame, Duke University, and St. John’s University. His biography, “All Rise: The Remarkable Journey of Alan Page,” was published in 2010.

• August 7, 1960 The Republic of Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) gained independence from France. The Ivory Coast is located in West Africa and is bordered by Liberia and Guinea to the west, Mali and Burkina Faso to the north, Ghana to the east, and the Gulf of Guinea to the south. The country is approximately 200,000 square miles in size with a population of approximately 20.6 million people. Islam and Christianity are the major religions practiced by most of the population. The official language is French, but an estimated 65 languages are spoken in the country.

• August 7, 1966 Samuel Jesse Battle, the first black police officer in New York City, died. Battle was born January 16, 1883 in New Bern, North Carolina. After attending segregated schools in North Carolina, Battle moved to New York City where he worked as a train porter and began studying for the police department civil service examination. On June 28, 1911, he was appointed to the police department and assigned to San Juan Hill, one of the major African American neighborhoods in Manhattan. As the African American population in Harlem grew, Battle was reassigned there. Battle later became the first African American sergeant and lieutenant on the force and in 1941 became the first African American parole commissioner. In that capacity, he worked with delinquent youth in Harlem, overseeing summer camps and sports activities. Battle retired in 1951, but remained active in the Harlem community.

• August 7, 1984 Esther Mae Jones Phillips, R&B vocalist, died. Phillips was born December 23, 1935 in Galveston, Texas. In 1949, she won an amateur talent contest and began touring as “Little Esther Phillips.” In 1950, she recorded her first hit record, “Double Crossing Blues,” and that was followed by other hits such as “Mistrusting Blues,” “Misery,” and “Wedding Boogie.” Few female artists had ever enjoyed such success in their debut year of recording. But just as quickly as the hits had started, the hits stopped. In 1962, Phillips launched a comeback with the release of “Release Me” which went to number one on the R&B charts. In 1972, she released the album “From a Whisper to a Scream,” which was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Vocal Performance - Female, with the lead track “Home is Where the Hatred Is.” In 1975, Phillips scored her biggest hit single with “What a Difference a Day Makes” which was nominated for the 1975 Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance - Female.

• August 7, 1989 George Thomas “Mickey” Leland died along with 14 others in a plane crash during a mission to Gambela, Ethiopia. Leland was born November 27, 1944 in Lubbock, Texas. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Texas Southern University in 1970. Leland was elected to the Texas State Legislature in 1972 and elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1979 where he served until his death. Although considered by some as controversial, Leland was an effective advocate on hunger and public health issues. A Federal building in downtown Houston and the international terminal at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston are named in his honor. The USAID Leland Initiative to improve internet connectivity in Africa was also named in his honor. In 1989, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s humanitarian award was renamed in his memory.

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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.