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Today in Black History, 9/16/2012

• September 16, 1839 James Daniel Gardner, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Gloucester, Virginia. He worked as an oysterman before enlisting in the Union Army in 1863. On September 29, 1864, Gardner was serving as a private in Company I of the 36th Regiment United States Colored Troops when his actions at the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. Gardner’s regiment was among a division of black troops assigned to attack the Confederate defenses. The attack was met with intense fire and over fifty percent of the black troops were killed, captured, or wounded. Gardner advanced ahead of his unit into the Confederate fortifications, “shot a rebel officer who was on the parapet rallying his men, and then ran him through with his bayonet.” The day after the battle, Gardner was promoted to sergeant and on April 6, 1865 was issued the medal. Gardner died September 29, 1905 and in 2006 a memorial commemorating him was unveiled in his hometown.

• September 16, 1846 George Franklin Grant, pioneering dentist and inventor of the golf tee, was born in Oswego, New York. Grant graduated with honors from the Harvard School of Dentistry in 1870, the second African American to graduate from the school. He then became the first African American member of the Harvard faculty when he took a position in the Department of Mechanical Dentistry where he worked for 19 years. He was also recognized internationally for his invention of the oblate palate, a prosthetic device for the treatment of cleft palate. Grant was a founding member and later president of the Harvard Odontological Society. He was also a member of the Harvard Dental Alumni Association and was elected president in 1881. Grant was an avid golfer and on December 12, 1899, he received patent number 638,920 for his invention of the golf tee. Grant did not manufacture or market the tee, therefore it was not seen by anyone outside of his circle of golfing friends. It was not until 1991 that the United States Golf Association recognized Grant as the inventor of the wooden tee and for his contribution to the game of golf. He died on August 21, 1910.

• September 16, 1867 William Othello Wilson, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Hagerstown, Maryland. He enlisted in the United States Army in 1889. On December 30, 1890, Wilson was serving as a corporal in Company I, 9th U.S. Cavalry during the Indian Wars. On that date, he earned the medal, America’s highest military decoration, for volunteering to successfully carry a message to the battalion commander at the Pine Ridge Indian Agency in South Dakota. He returned an hour later with reinforcements, saving the lives of at least 25 men in the wagon supply team. Wilson received the medal on September 17, 1891. He was the last African American to earn the medal on American soil. Wilson retired from the army in 1898 and died in January of 1928. A historical marker honoring Wilson is located in Hagerstown.

• September 16, 1889 Claude Albert Barnett, entrepreneur and founder of the Associated Negro Press, was born in Sanford, Florida. Barnett earned an engineering degree from Tuskegee Institute in 1906 with the institution’s highest award. In 1913, he began reproducing photographs of notable black luminaries and selling them. By 1917, Barnett had transformed this endeavor into a thriving business. In 1919, Barnett created the Associated Negro Press, a service designed to provide primarily African American newspapers with a reliable stream of news stories. At its peak in the early 1950s, the ANP serviced 200 newspapers around the world. During the 1930s, Barnett served as a consultant to the United States Department of Agriculture and from 1938 to 1942 served as president of the board of directors of Provident Hospital in Chicago. He also served on the boards of the American Red Cross and Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company. In 1951, the President of Haiti presented him with the Chevalier Order of Honor and Merit and the next year the President of Liberia bestowed upon him the title of Commander of the Order of Star of Africa. Barnett died August 2, 1967 and the Associated Negro Press folded soon after his death. Barnett’s story is told in “A Black National News Service, The Associated Negro Press and Claude Barnett, 1919 – 1945” (1984).

• September 16, 1921 Jon Hendricks, jazz lyricist and singer, was born in Newark, Ohio. After serving in the United States Army during World War II, Hendricks moved to New York City and in 1957 teamed with Dave Lambert and Annie Ross to form the vocal group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. With albums that include “Sing a Song of Basie” (1957), “The Swingers” (1958), and “High Flying with Lambert, Hendricks & Ross” (1962), they were designated the Number One Vocal Group in the World for five years in a row by Melody Maker Magazine. Numerous singers cite them as influences, including Al Jarreau and Bobby McFerrin. The trio disbanded in 1963 and Hendricks pursued a solo career as a singer. His collaboration with The Manhattan Transfer on their 1985 album “Vocalese” won seven Grammy Awards, including the award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Duo or Group. In 2000, Hendricks was appointed Distinguished Professor of Jazz at the University of Toledo. He was recently selected to be the first American jazz artist to lecture at the Sorbonne in Paris, France. Hendricks continues to tour while working on two books and teaching.

• September 16, 1925 Riley “B.B.” King, hall of fame blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter, was born in Itta Bena, Mississippi. In 1948, King moved to Memphis, Tennessee and worked as a singer and disc jockey at the local R&B radio station. King began recording in 1949 and by the 1950s had become one of the most important names in R&B with hits that included “Three O’Clock Blues” (1951), “Every Day I Have the Blues” (1955), and “Sweet Little Angel” (1956). King continued to record into the 1980s with songs like “The Thrill is Gone” (1970) and “To Know You is to Love You” (1973). Although recording less, King continues to maintain an active career. Over his 50 plus years, King has played more than 15,000 performances and won 15 Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987. In 1980, King was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and in 1987 was one of the inaugural inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1990, King was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President George H.W. Bush. In 1995, he was awarded the Kennedy Center Honors and in 2006 President George W. Bush presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

• September 16, 1934 Elgin Gay Baylor, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Washington, D.C. Baylor played college basketball at the College of Idaho and Seattle University before being selected by the Minnesota Lakers in the 1958 NBA Draft. Over his 14 season professional career, he was the 1959 Rookie of the Year and an eleven-time NBA All-Star. He still holds the record for most points scored in an NBA finals game, scoring 61 points in game five of the 1962 NBA finals. From 1974 to 1979, Baylor coached the New Orleans Jazz and from 1986 to 2008 was vice president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Clippers. In 2006, he was named NBA Executive of the Year. Baylor was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1977 and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.

• September 16, 1946 Mamie Robinson Smith, vaudeville singer, dancer, pianist, and actress, died. Smith was born May 26, 1883 in Cincinnati, Ohio. As a teenager, she danced in Salem Tutt Whitney’s Smart Set and in 1920 she recorded a set of songs, including “Crazy Blues” and “It’s Right Here For You (If You Don’t Get It, T’ain’t No Fault of Mine). These were the first recordings of vocal blues by an African American singer and sold over a million copies in one year. “Crazy Blues” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1994 as a recording of “qualitative or historical significance” and selected to be part of the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress in 2005 as a recording of “cultural, historical, or aesthetical importance.” Smith continued to record throughout the 1920s and toured the United States and Europe. She appeared in a number of motion pictures, including “Jail House Blues” (1929), “Paradise in Harlem” (1939), and “Murder on Lennox Avenue” (1941).

• September 16, 1949 Hallie Quinn Brown, educator, writer, and activist, died. Brown was born March 10, 1849 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Wilberforce University in 1873 and then taught at schools in Mississippi and South Carolina. From 1885 to 1887, she was dean of Allen University and from 1892 to 1893 lady principal of Tuskegee Institute. She became professor of elocution at Wilberforce in 1893 and frequently lectured on African American issues, the temperance movement, and women’s suffrage. Brown spoke in London, England at the International Woman’s Christian Temperance Union conference in 1895 and the International Congress of Women in 1899. Brown was a founder of the Colored Women’s League which in 1894 merged into the National Association of Colored Women. She served as president of the Ohio State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs from 1905 to 1912 and the National Association of Colored Women from 1920 to 1924. She also spoke at the Republican National Convention in 1924. Brown authored four books, “Bits and Odds: A Choice Selection of Recitations” (1880), “Elocution and Physical Culture” (1910), “First Lessons in Public Speaking” (1920), and “Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction” (1926). The Hallie Q. Brown Community Center in St. Paul, Minnesota and the Hallie Q. Brown Memorial Library at Central State University are named in her honor.

• September 16, 1950 Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, educator, writer, and scholar, was born in Keyser, West Virginia. Gates earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in history summa cum laude from Yale University in 1973 and became the first African American to be awarded an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship. He earned his Master of Arts degree and his Ph.D. in English from Clare College at the University of Cambridge in 1979, the first African American to earn a Ph. D. from the college. Gates taught at Yale University from 1976 to 1984 and Cornell University from 1985 to 1989. In 1991, he joined Harvard University where he is now the Alphonse Fletcher, Jr. University professor and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Gates has written a number of books, including “Figures in Black: Words, Signs, and the “Racial” Self” (1987), “Colored People: A Memoir” (1994), “The African American Century: How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Century” (2000), “Tradition and the Black Atlantic: Critical Theory in the African Diaspora” (2010), and “Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History” (2011). Gates was the host and co-producer of the documentaries “African American Lives” (2006) and “African American Lives 2” (2008). In 2010, he hosted the four-part PBS series “Faces of America.” In 1998, Gates was presented the National Humanities Medal by President William Clinton for work that has “deepened the nations’ understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizens’ engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand Americans’ access to important resources in the humanities” and in 2002 he was selected by the National Endowment for the Humanities to deliver the Jefferson Lecture, the United States government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities.

• September 16, 1966 Kevin Curtis Young, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in Los Angeles, California. Young ran track at the University of California, Los Angeles and in 1987 and 1988 won the NCAA 400 meter hurdles championship. He also graduated from UCLA in 1988 and participated in the 1988 Tokyo Olympic Games, finishing fourth. At the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, Young won the Gold medal for the 400 meter hurdles, setting a world record which remains today and becoming the first person to run the event in under 47 seconds. Young retired from track in 1999 and was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2006.

• September 16, 1978 William Hendrick “Bill” Foster, hall of fame Negro League baseball player, died. Foster was born June 12, 1904 in Calvert, Texas. He pitched for several teams in the Negro league from 1923 to 1936 and had a career record of 132 wins and 62 losses. Foster won six of seven games pitched against white major league players. In 1929, after pitching a shutout against a team of major league all-stars, Charles Gehringer told Foster, “If I could paint you white I could get $150,000 for you right now.” During the off-season, Foster continued his education and earned his bachelor’s degree from Alcorn State College. From 1960 to 1977, he was dean of men and the baseball coach at his alma mater. Foster was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.

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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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