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Today in Black History, 9/14/2012

• September 14, 1735 Prince Hall, the founder of “Black Freemasonry,” was born in Barbados. Not much is known of his youth and how he ended up in Boston, Massachusetts. It is known that he was a property owner and a registered voter and that he worked as an abolitionist and civil rights activist. He fought for laws to protect blacks from kidnapping by slave traders and campaigned for schools for black children. On March 6, 1775, Hall and fourteen other free black men were initiated into Military Lodge No. 441, a lodge attached to the British Army. When the British Army left, on July 3, 1776 the Black Masons were granted a dispensation for limited operations as African Lodge No. 1 which then served as the mother lodge to new black lodges in other cities. In 1791, Black Freemasons formed the African Grand Lodge of North America and unanimously elected Hall Grand Master, a position that he held until his death on December 4, 1807. The African Grand Lodge was later renamed Prince Hall Grand Lodge in his honor. Hall’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• September 14, 1899 Fitz Lee, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Lee’s date of birth is unknown, but he was born in Dinwiddie County, Virginia. By June 30, 1898, he was serving as a private in Troop M of the 10th Cavalry Regiment during the Spanish-American War. On that day, American forces aboard the USS Florida near Tayacoba, Cuba dispatched a small landing party to provide reconnaissance on Spanish outposts in the area. The party was discovered by Spanish scouts and came under heavy fire. Their boats were sunk by enemy canon fire, leaving them stranded on shore. The men aboard the Florida launched four unsuccessful rescue attempts and were forced to retreat each time under heavy fire. The fifth attempt, manned by Lee and three other privates, launched at night and successfully found and rescued the surviving members of the landing party. On June 23, 1899, Lee and the other three rescuers were awarded the medal, America’s highest military decoration.

• September 14, 1914 Allen Allensworth, minister, educator, and town founder, died. Allensworth was born enslaved on April 7, 1842 in Louisville, Kentucky. He escaped slavery by joining the Union Army during the Civil War. In 1871, he was ordained a Baptist minister and led several churches in Kentucky. In 1880 and 1884, he was the only black delegate from Kentucky to the Republican National Conventions. In 1886, Allensworth was appointed military chaplain to a unit of Buffalo Soldiers and by the time he retired in 1906 he had reached the rank of lieutenant colonel, the first African American to achieve that rank. After leaving military service, Allensworth moved to Los Angeles, California. In 1908, he founded the town of Allensworth in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley as an all-black community. It is the only California town founded, financed, and governed by African Americans. By 1914, the town was reported to be 900 acres of deeded land worth more than $112,500. Over the next couple of decades, the population dwindled and the town became a ghost town. Parts of the town have been preserved as the Colonel Allensworth State Historical Park. Biographies of Allensworth include “Battles and Victories of Allen Allensworth” (1914) and “Out of Darkness: The Story of Allen Allensworth” (1998).

• September 14, 1921 Constance Baker Motley, hall of fame civil rights activist, lawyer, and judge, was born in New Haven, Connecticut. Motley earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from New York University in 1943 and her law degree from Columbia Law School in 1946. She began her career as a law clerk at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, eventually becoming associate counsel and the LDF’s first female attorney. In 1950, she wrote the original complaint in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. In 1962, Motley became the first African American woman to argue a case before the United States Supreme Court in Meredith v. Fair. Motley was successful in winning James Meredith’s case to be the first African American student admitted to the University of Mississippi. Motley was successful in nine out of the ten cases that she argued before the Supreme Court. She had a succession of firsts for an African American woman, including in 1964 being the first elected to the New York State Senate, in 1965 the first chosen Manhattan Borough President, and in 1966 the first appointed a federal court judge. In 1993, Motley was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. In 2001, President William Clinton awarded her the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second highest civilian award in the United States, and in 2003 she received the NAACP Spingarn Medal. Motley published her autobiography, “Equal Justice Under Law: An Autobiography” in 1999 and died September 28, 2005. Her name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• September 14, 1924 Benjamin William Quarteyquaye Quartey-Papafio, the first African educated to practice medicine in the Gold Coast, died. Quartey-Papafio was born June 25, 1859 or 1863 in Accra, Gold Coast (now Kenya). He was educated at Fourah Bay College in Freetown, Sierra Leone before earning his Bachelor of Arts degree from Durham University in Britain in 1882. In 1886, he earned his Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degrees from Edinburgh University and became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. After returning to the Gold Coast, he served as a medical officer with the Gold Coast Government Service from 1888 to 1905 while also in private practice. From 1909 to 1912, Quartey-Papafio was a member of the Accra Town Council and from 1919 to his death was an unofficial member of the legislative council.

• September 14, 1924 Abioseh Davidson Nicol, academic, diplomat, and writer, was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Nicol graduated from Christ’s College, Cambridge University in 1946 and earned his Ph.D. in 1958. From 1960 to 1966, Nicol was the first native principal of Fourah Bay College in Freetown. He served as chairman and vice chancellor at the University of Sierra Leone from 1966 to 1969. Nicol left academia in 1969 to become Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone to the United Nations where he served until 1971. From 1972 to 1982, he served as Under-Secretary General of the United Nations. Nicol returned to academia and served as a visiting professor of international studies at the University of California from 1987 to1988 and University of South Carolina from 1990 to this retirement in 1991. Nicol was a published author of short stories, poetry, music, academic literature, and a biography of Africanus Horton, an early Sierra Leonean author and one of the founders of African Nationalism. His last published work was “Creative Women” in 1982. Nicol died September 20, 1994.

• September 14, 1980 Dorothy Celeste Boulding Ferebee, physician, educator, and social activist, died. Ferebee was born October 10, 1898 in Norfolk, Virginia. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Simmons College in 1920 and her medical degree with top honors from Tufts University Medical School in 1924. Not allowed to intern at white hospitals in Boston, Ferebee did her internship at the black-owned Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. In the late 1920s, Ferebee opened the Southeast Neighborhood House to provide medical care and other community services to poor African Americans in D.C. From 1935 to 1942, she served as medical director for the Mississippi Health Project which deployed mobile medical units throughout impoverished regions of the deep South. In 1949, Ferebee was named director of health services at Howard University Medical School, a position she held until her retirement in 1968. Ferebee served as the international president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority from 1939 to 1941, president of the National Council of Negro Women from 1949 to 1953, and vice president of Girl Scouts of the United States from 1969 to 1972. In 1959, Ferebee was the first recipient of Simmons College’s Alumnae Achievement Award. The college awards several scholarships in her name each year.

• September 14, 2000 Beau Richards, stage, film, and television actress died. Richards was born Beulah Richardson on July 12, 1920 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, She graduated from Dillard University in 1948 and two years later moved to New York City. Her career started to take off in 1955 with her appearance in the off-Broadway production of “Take a Giant Step.” Broadway productions in which Richards appeared include “The Miracle Worker” (1957) and “A Raisin in the Sun” (1959). In 1965, she was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance in “The Amen Corner.” In 1967, Richards was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Other notable movie performances include “Hurry Sundown” (1967), “In the Heat of the Night” (1967), and “Beloved” (1998). Richards made numerous television appearances and won the Prime Time Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in 1988 for an appearance in “Frank’s Place” and in 2000 for an appearance in “The Practice.” In 2003, Richards was the subject of the documentary “Beau: A Black Woman Speaks.”

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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.