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Today in Black History, 9/21/2012

• September 21, 1872 The United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland admitted the first black midshipman, John Henry Conyers of South Carolina. After enduring ostracism and being subjected to discrimination, Conyers resigned from the academy. Two other black midshipmen also attempted to endure the hostile environment at Annapolis but both resigned after a few months. It was not until 1949 that an African American, Wesley Brown, graduated from the academy and received his commission.

• September 21, 1909 Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana, was born in Nkroful, Gold Coast (now Ghana). In 1935, Nkrumah came to the United States to further his education, earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1939 and his Bachelor of Sacred Theology degree in 1942 from Lincoln University and his Master of Science degree in 1942 and his Masters of Arts degree in philosophy in 1943 from the University of Pennsylvania. In 1947, Nkrumah returned to the Gold Coast and became the leader of the United Gold Coast Convention which was working on independence from the British. In 1950, the colonial administration arrested and sentenced Nkrumah to three years in jail for his political activities. As the result of international protests and internal resistance, Nkrumah was released from jail in 1951 and elected Prime Minister of the Gold Coast in 1952. On March 6, 1957, Nkrumah declared Ghana independent and in 1960 he was elected president. In February, 1966, Nkrumah’s government was overthrown in a military coup which was backed by the United States Central Intelligence Agency and he went into exile in Guinea. He died April 27, 1972. Nkrumah is best remembered for his strong commitment to and promotion of Pan-Africanism and his significant influence in the founding of the Organization of African Unity. In 2000, he was voted Arica’s Man of the Millennium by listeners of the BBC World Service. Nkrumah was a prolific author and published his autobiography, “Ghana: The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah,” in 1957. Other works by Nkrumah include “Africa Must Unite” (1963), “Dark Days in Ghana” (1968), and “Revolutionary Path,” published posthumously in 1973.

• September 21, 1933 Clifford Leopold Alexander, Jr., lawyer, businessman and the first African American Secretary of the Army, was born in New York City. Alexander earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University in 1955 and his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1958 from Yale University Law School. He served in the United States Army from 1958 to 1959, as an assistant district attorney from 1959 to 1961, and in 1963 served as a foreign affairs officer on the National Security Council staff. From 1967 to 1969, Alexander was chairman of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Alexander returned to private law practice from 1969 to 1975. In 1977, Alexander was appointed Secretary of the Army by President Jimmy Carter and served until 1981. During his tenure, he worked on making the all-volunteer army successful and emphasized the award of contracts to minority businesses. In 1981, he formed his own consulting firm which he continues to operate. Alexander serves on the boards of directors of several corporations and is a member of the Board of Governors of the American Stock Exchange.

• September 21, 1949 Artis Gilmore, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Chipley, Florida but raised in Dothan, Alabama. Gilmore played two years at Jacksonville University and led the team to the 1970 NCAA Division I championship game. He led the NCAA in rebounding both years and his career average of 22.7 rebounds per game is the highest in NCAA Division I history. Gilmore was selected by the Kentucky Colonels in the 1971 ABA Draft. In his first year, he won both the Rookie of the Year Award and the Most Valuable Player Award. After the ABA dissolved in 1976, Gilmore was selected by the Chicago Bulls of the NBA. Over his 19 season professional career, he was an 11-time All-Star and still holds the NBA record for career field goal percentage. Gilmore was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011. Since 2007, he has served as special assistant to the president of Jacksonville University.

• September 21, 1990 Charles Calvin Rogers, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Rogers was born September 6, 1929 in Claremont, West Virginia. He joined the United States Army and by 1968 was serving as a lieutenant colonel in command of 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Infantry Division during the Vietnam War. On November 1, 1968, his battalion was manning a fire support base near the Cambodian border when it came under heavy attack. Rogers’ actions during the attack earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. His citation partially reads, “In the early morning hours, the fire support base was subjected to a concentrated bombardment of heavy mortar, rocket and rocket propelled grenade fire. Simultaneously the position was struck by a human wave ground assault, led by sappers who breached the defensive barriers with bangalore torpedoes and penetrated the defensive perimeter. Lt. Col. Rogers with complete disregard for his safety moved through the hail of fragments from bursting enemy rounds to the embattled area. He aggressively rallied the dazed artillery crewmen to man their howitzers and he directed their fire on the assaulting enemy. Although knocked to the ground and wounded by an exploding round, Lt. Col. Rogers sprang to his feet and led a small counterattack force against an enemy element that had penetrated the howitzer positions. Although painfully wounded a second time during the assault, Lt. Col. Rogers pressed the attack killing several of the enemy and driving the remainder from the positions. Refusing medical treatment, Lt. Col. Rogers reestablished and reinforced the defensive positions. As a second human wave attack was launched against another sector of the perimeter, Lt. Col. Rogers directed artillery fire on the assaulting enemy and led a second counterattack against the enemy forces. His valorous example rallied the beleaguered defenders to repulse and defeat the enemy onslaught. Lt. Col. Rogers moved from position to position through the heavy enemy fire, giving encouragement and direction to his men. At dawn the determined enemy launched a third assault against the fire base in an attempt to overrun the position. Lt. Col. Rogers moved to the threatened area and directed lethal fire on the enemy forces. Seeing a howitzer inoperative due to casualties, Lt. Col. Rogers joined the surviving members of the crew to return the howitzer to action. While directing the position defense, Lt. Col. Rogers was seriously wounded by fragments from a heavy mortar round which exploded on the parapet of the gun position. Although too severely wounded to physically lead the defenders, Lt. Col. Rogers continued to give encouragement and direction to his men in the defeating and repelling of the enemy attack.” On May 14, 1970, President Richard M. Nixon presented the medal to Rogers. Rogers rose to the rank of major general before leaving the army. He later became a Baptist minister serving U.S. troops in Germany where he died.

• September 21, 1994 James Walter Carter, hall of fame boxer and the first man to win the lightweight title three times, died. Carter was born December 15, 1923 in Aiken, South Carolina. He began boxing professionally in 1946 and fought 64 bouts before winning the World Lightweight Championship in 1951. He lost and won the title two more times before losing it for good in 1955. Carter retired from boxing in 1960 with a record of 81 wins, 30 losses, and 9 draws. Carter was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2000.

• September 21, 1998 Florence Delorez “Flo-Jo” Griffith-Joyner, hall of fame track and field athlete, died. Griffith-Joyner was born December 21, 1959 in Los Angeles, California. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, Griffith-Joyner won the Silver medal in the 200 meter race. At the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, she won the Gold medal in the 100 and 200 meter races and the 4 by 100 meter relay and the Silver medal in the 4 by 400 meter relay. She still holds the world records in the 100 and 200 meter races. In 1988, Griffith-Joyner was the recipient of the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States. She retired from competitive sports shortly after the 1988 Olympic Games and was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1995.

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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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