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Today in Black History, 9/13/2012

• September 13, 1881 Lewis H. Latimer of New York City shared patent number 247,097 for improvements in incandescent electrical lamps. The improvements related to the method of mounting the carbons and connecting them with wires. This resulted in better electrical contact between the carbons and the wires which reduced the cost of the lamps. Latimer was born September 4, 1848 in Chelsea, Massachusetts. He joined the United States Navy at the age of 15 and after receiving an honorable discharge joined a patent law firm as a draftsman at the age of 17. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell employed Latimer to draft the drawings required to receive a patent for Bell’s telephone. Although Thomas Edison is credited with the invention of the light bulb, Latimer made significant contributions to its further development. On January 17, 1882, he received patent number 252,386 for the Process of Manufacturing Carbons, an improved method for the production of carbon filaments for light bulbs. In total, Latimer received seven patents before his death on December 11, 1928. He was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006 and Lewis H. Latimer School in Brooklyn, New York is named in his honor. His biography, “Lewis Latimer: Bright Ideas,” was published in 1997. Latimer’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• September 13, 1885 Alain LeRoy Locke, writer, philosopher, educator, and patron of the arts, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1907, Locke earned his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees from Harvard University in English and philosophy and became the first African American Rhodes Scholar. He was denied admission to several Oxford colleges because of his skin color before being admitted to Hartford College where he studied literature, philosophy, Greek, and Latin and earned his Bachelor of Letters degree in 1910. He also attended the University of Berlin and the College de France. Locke earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard University in 1918 and joined Howard University as the chair of the Department of Philosophy, a position that he held until his retirement in 1953. Locke was often called “the Father of the Harlem Renaissance” because he promoted African American artists, writers, and musicians and encouraged them to look to Africa as an inspiration for their work. He also encouraged them to depict African and African American subjects and to draw on their history for subject material. Locke was a prolific writer and his major works include “Race Contacts and Interracial Relations: Lectures on the Theory and Practice of Race” (1916), “The New Negro” (1925), and “Four Negro Poets” (1927). Additionally, he edited the “Bronze Booklet” series, a set of eight volumes published by the Associates in Negro Folk Education in the 1930s. Locke died June 9, 1954. There are a number of schools around the country named in his honor, including the Alain Locke Charter School in Chicago, Illinois. Biographies of Locke include “Alain Locke: Reflections on a Modern Renaissance Man” (1982) and “The Philosophy of Alain Locke: Harlem Renaissance and Beyond” (1989). Locke’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• September 13, 1913 Charles Sylvan “Cholly” Atkins, dancer and choreographer, was born in Pratt City, Alabama. Atkins served in the United States Army Band from 1943 to 1945 during World War II. He first gained fame as half of the tap dancing duo Coles and Atkins. They appeared in the 1949 movie “Gentleman Prefer Blondes.” In the late 1950s, Atkins began to choreograph steps for various vocal groups. In 1964, he was hired by Motown Records where he developed the routines for acts like The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, and others. In 1989, Atkins won the Tony Award for Best Choreographer for the Broadway show “Black and Blue.” Atkins published his autobiography, “Class Act: The Jazz Life of Choreographer Cholly Atkins,” in 2001 and died April 19, 2003.

• September 13, 1922 Charles Brown, hall of fame blues singer and pianist, was born in Texas City, Texas. As a child, Brown took classical piano lessons. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry with the intention of teaching the subject. Brown moved to Los Angeles, California during World War II to teach, but ended up performing with a group called the Three Blazers. In 1945, they recorded Brown’s composition “Driftin’ Blues” which stayed on the Billboard R&B charts for six months and became a template for a lighter, more relaxed style of blues. Brown went solo in 1948 and released a number of major hits during the early 1950s, including “Get Yourself Another Fool,” “Black Night,” “Hard Times,” and “Trouble Blues.” His “Please Come Home for Christmas” (1960) had sold more than a million copies by 1968. Brown received the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship in 1997. Brown died January 21, 1999 and was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that same year.

• September 13, 1926 Andrew Felton Brimmer, economist, academic, and the first African American to serve as a governor of the Federal Reserve System, was born in Newellton, Louisiana. Brimmer served in the United States Army from 1945 to 1946. He earned both his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees from the University of Washington in 1950 and 1951, respectively. In 1951, Brimmer received a Fulbright Scholarship to study in India and in 1957 earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University. While at Harvard, he worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York as an economist. After receiving his Ph.D., Brimmer became assistant secretary of economic affairs at the U.S. Department of Commerce. In 1966, he was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to an eight year term on the board of governors of the Federal Reserve. At the end of his term, Brimmer taught at Harvard for two years before starting his own consulting firm. He is a trustee of the Economists for Peace and Security.

• September 13, 1947 Elmer Gerald “Geronimo” Pratt, civil rights activist, was born in Morgan City, Louisiana. Pratt served in the United States Army from 1965 to 1968, serving two combat tours during the Vietnam War. He reached the rank of sergeant and earned two Bronze Stars, a Silver Star, and two Purple Hearts. After being discharged, he moved to Los Angeles, California and joined the Black Panther Party. In 1972, Pratt was convicted of kidnapping and murder and spent 27 years in prison, eight of which were in solitary confinement. In 1997, Pratt’s conviction was overturned on the grounds that the prosecution had concealed evidence and he eventually received a $4.5 million settlement for false imprisonment. After his release, Pratt worked on behalf of men and women believed to be wrongly incarcerated until his death on June 2, 2011. His biography, “Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt,” was published in 2000.

• September 13, 1948 Nell Carter, singer and film, stage, and television actress, was born Nell Ruth Hardy in Birmingham, Alabama. Carter appeared on Broadway in “Dude” (1972) and “Annie” (1977), but became a star with her stage performance in “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” for which she won the 1978 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. She also won the 1982 Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement for the same role in a televised version of the play. From 1981 to 1987, Carter starred in the television situation comedy “Gimme a Break” for which she earned Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1982 and 1983 and Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Series-Comedy/Musical in 1983 and 1985.. Carter died January 23, 2003.

• September 13, 1953 Iyanla Vanzant, lawyer, writer, and lecturer, was born Rhoda Harris in Brooklyn, New York. Vanzant had a troubled childhood and by the time she was 27 had three children and was on welfare. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in public administration summa cum laude from Medgar Evers College in 1983, her Juris Doctorate degree from City University of New York in 1988, and her Master of Arts in spiritual psychology from the University of Santa Monica in 2001. Vanzant worked as a public defender in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from 1988 to 1992. A prolific author, Vanzant published her first book, “Tapping the Power Within,” in 1992. She published her memoir, “Interiors: A Black Woman’s Healing in Progress,” in 1995. Other books by Vanzant include “Faith in the Valley: Lessons for Women on the Journey to Peace” (1998), “Value in the Valley: A Black Woman’s Guide Through Life’s Dilemmas” (2001), and “Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through” (2010). Vanzant has sold millions of books and currently hosts “Iyanla, Fix My Life” on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

• September 13, 1957 Keith Lanier Black, neurosurgeon specializing in the treatmen of brain tumors, was born in Tuskegee, Alabama. Unwilling to enroll their son in the substandard segregated high school, the family moved to Shaker Heights, Ohio. At 17, Black won the Westinghouse Science Award in a national competition for research on the damage done to red blood cells in patients with heart-valve replacements. Black completed an accelerated college program at the University of Michigan Medical School and earned both his Bachelor of Science and Doctor of Medicine degrees in 1981. In 1987, Black moved to the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center and in 1997 joined Cedars-Sinai Medical Center as director of the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute. In 2007, he opened the Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Brain Tumor Center at Cedars-Sinai. Black is noted for his busy surgery schedule, performing about 250 brain surgeries a year and as of 2009 more than 5,000 in total. In 1997, Time magazine featured Black on the cover of a special edition titled “Heroes of Medicine.” Esquire magazine included him in its 1999 “Genius Issue” as one of the “21 Most Important People of the 21st Century.” In 2009, Black published his autobiography “Brain Surgeon.”

• September 13, 1964 Tavis Smiley, talk show host, author, and entrepreneur, was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, but raised in Kokomo, Indiana. Smiley worked as an aide to Los Angeles, California Mayor Tom Bradley from the late 1980s to 1990. He became a radio commentator in 1991 and in 1996 became a regular commentator on the “Tom Joyner Morning Show.” Also in 1996, he began hosting and executive producing “BET Tonight” on the Black Entertainment Television network. He held that position until 2001. From 2002 to 2004, Smiley hosted “The Tavis Smiley Show” on National Public Radio and he currently hosts “Tavis Smiley” on the Public Broadcasting System. Smiley earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in public affairs from Indiana University in 2003. He has published several books, including “Hard Left: Straight Talk about the Wrongs of the Right” (1996), “Accountable: Making America As Good As Its Promise” (2009), and “Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure” (2011). In 2006, he published his autobiography “What I Know for Sure: My Story of Growing Up in America.” Smiley has received honorary doctorate degrees from Connecticut College and Langston University and Indiana University honored him by naming the atrium of its School of Public and Environmental Affairs building The Tavis Smiley Atrium.

• September 13, 1967 Michael Duane Johnson, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in Dallas, Texas. Johnson attended Baylor University where he won several NCAA championships in indoor and outdoor sprints and relays. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in business in 1990. Johnson won Gold medals at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games in the 4 by 400 meter relay, at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games in the 200 meter and 400 meter races, and at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games in the 400 meter race. He is the only male athlete in history to win the 200 meter and 400 meter races at the same Olympic Games. He is also the only man to successfully defend his Olympic title in the 400 meter race. In 1996, Johnson received the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States and was named ABC’s Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year. That same year, he published his autobiography, “Slaying the Dragon: How to Turn Your Small Steps to Great Feats.” Johnson retired from track after the 2000 Summer Olympics and currently runs a sports management company and a state of the art athletic training complex. Johnson was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2004 and his 1996 Olympic performance in the 200 meter race was named the greatest track and field moment of the last 25 years. Johnson holds the current world record in the 400 meter race.

• September 13, 1969 Tyler Perry, writer, director, producer, and entrepreneur, was born Emmitt Perry, Jr. in New Orleans, Louisiana. At the age of 16, Perry had his first name legally changed to Tyler. Perry did not graduate from high school, but did earn his General Education Diploma. Around 1990, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia and two years later his first play “I Know I’ve Been Changed” was performed. In 1998, after significant refinement, the play became a success and Perry began staging a succession of plays on the “urban theater circuit,” including “I Can Do Bad All By Myself” (1999), “Madea’s Family Reunion” (2001), “What’s Done in the Dark” (2006), and “The Haves and The Have Nots” (2011). In 2005, Forbes Magazine estimated that Perry had sold more than $100 million in tickets, $30 million in videos, and $20 million in merchandise. Perry produced his first movie, “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” in 2005. Other movies that he has produced include “Why Did I Get Married” (2007), “Media Goes to Jail” (2009), and “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf” (2010). In 2006, Perry began producing the television show “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne” and that same year published his first novel, “Don’t Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Media’s Uninhibited Commentaries on Love and Life.” In 2011, Forbes magazine named him the highest paid man in entertainment with earnings of $130 million in the year ended May, 2011.

• September 13, 1996 Tupac Amaru Shakur, hip hop rapper and actor, died. Shakur was born June 16, 1971 in New York City and was named after Tupac Amaru II, a Peruvian revolutionary who led an indigenous uprising against Spain and was subsequently executed. In 1986, Shakur’s family moved to Baltimore where he attended the Baltimore School for the Arts and studied acting, poetry, jazz and ballet. Shakur’s professional career began in 1990 and in 1991 he released his debut solo album, “2 Pacalypse Now.” Other albums released during his life include “Me Against the World” (1995) and “All Eyes on Me” (1996) which is one of the highest selling rap albums of all time. Shakur also appeared in several movies, including “Juice” (1992), “Poetic Justice” (1993), and “Bullet” (1996). Several of Shakur’s albums were released posthumously, including “R U Still Down? (Remember Me)” (1997), “Until the End of Time” (2001), and “Loyal to the Game” (2004). Shakur is recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest selling rap artist with over 75 million albums sold worldwide. In 2008, Forbes magazine estimated that Shakur’s estate earned $15 million. In 2002, he was posthumously inducted into the Hip Hop Hall of Fame. Several documentaries have been released about Shakur’s life, including “Tupac Shakur: Thug Immortal” (1997), “Tupac Resurrection” which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary, and “Tupac: Assassination II: Reckoning” (2009).

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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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