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Today in Black History, 9/25/2012

• September 25, 1824 William Craft, daring escapee from enslavement, was born enslaved in Macon, Georgia. Craft’s wife Ellen was at least three-quarters European by ancestry and very fair. In December, 1848, they escaped enslavement by traveling openly by train and steamboat. She posed as a white male planter and he as her personal servant. Their escape was widely publicized and over the next two years, they made numerous public appearances to recount their escape. As a result, they were among the most famous of fugitives from slavery. In 1850, the United States Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act which made it a federal crime to aid an escaped slave and required law enforcement even in free states to aid efforts to recapture fugitives. Threatened by this act, the Crafts moved to England where they lived for the next 19 years. In 1860, they published their story in “Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom: Or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery.” The Crafts returned to the U.S. in 1868 and in 1870 bought 1800 acres of land near Savannah, Georgia where in 1873 they founded the Woodville Co-operative Farm School for the education and employment of freedmen. Ellen Craft died in 1897 and William died January 29, 1900.

• September 25, 1886 Peter “Black Prince” Jackson won the Australian Heavyweight Boxing Championship, becoming the first black man to win a national boxing crown. Jackson was born July 3, 1861 in Christiansted, Saint Croix. He began working as a dock hand in the Sydney, Australia docks when he was 14. Jackson won the Australian title with a 30th round knockout of Tom Lees. In 1888, he beat “Old Chocolate” Godfrey to win the World “Colored” Heavyweight Championship. In 1891, John L. Sullivan, the reigning heavyweight champion, would not fight Jackson because he was a black man and therefore Jackson fought James Corbett to a 61 round draw that was stopped because both boxers were too exhausted to continue. Jackson retired in 1899 with a record of 47 wins, 3 losses, and 4 draws. Jackson died July 13, 1901 and his tomb is emblazoned “This was a man.” Jackson was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Australian Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004.

• September 25, 1911 Eric Eustace Williams, author and the first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Williams earned his history degree from St. Catherine’s College in 1935 and went on to advanced research in history at Oxford, earning his Ph.D. in 1938. His doctorial thesis, “The Economic Aspects of the Abolition of the Slave Trade and West Indian Slavery,” argued that the British abolition of the slave trade in 1807 was motivated primarily by economics, rather than by altruism or humanitarianism. This thesis provided the basis for his book “Capitalism and Slavery” (1944). Other works by Williams include “British Historians and the West Indies” (1964) and “From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean, 1492-1969” (1970). In 1939, Williams moved to the United States where he taught at Howard University. In 1948, he returned to Trinidad as deputy chairman of the Caribbean Research Council. In 1956, Williams started his own political party, the People’s National Movement, which gained independence for Trinidad and Tobago on August 31, 1962. Williams served as Prime Minister from 1956 to his death on March 29, 1981. His autobiography, “Inward Hunger,” was published in 1969.

• September 25, 1951 Robert Allen McAdoo, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Greensboro, North Carolina. McAdoo played college basketball at Vincennes Junior College and the University of North Carolina. He was selected by the Buffalo Braves (now Los Angeles Clippers) in the 1972 NBA Draft and over his 14 season professional career was the 1973 Rookie of the Year, the 1975 Most Valuable Player, and a five-time NBA All-Star. In 1973/1974, McAdoo averaged more than 30 points per game and more than 15 rebounds per game which is the last time this has been done by a player in the NBA. After leaving the NBA, McAdoo played several years in Europe before finally retiring in 1993. He is currently an assistant coach with the Miami Heat. McAdoo was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000 and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.

• September 25, 1953 Dennis Bell, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Bell was born December 28, 1866 in Washington, D.C. By June 30, 1898, Bell was serving as a private in Troop H of the 10th Cavalry Regiment, an all-black unit of the United States Army 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 and came under heavy fire, sinking their boats and leaving them stranded on shore. The men aboard the Florida launched four rescue attempts but were forced to retreat under heavy fire each time. The fifth attempt, manned by Bell and three other privates, found and rescued the surviving members of the landing party. On June 23, 1899, Bell and the other three rescuers were awarded the medal, America’s highest military decoration. Bell reached the rank of corporal before leaving the army. Not much else is known of Bell’s life after he left the army.

• September 25, 1957 The Little Rock Nine successfully entered Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. On May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Brown v. Board of Education declaring all laws establishing segregated schools to be unconstitutional, and calling for the desegregation of all schools throughout the nation. By 1957, the NAACP had registered nine black students to attend the previously all-white Central High. Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus deployed the Arkansas National Guard to block the students from attending the school. On September 24, President Dwight Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army to Little Rock to facilitate their entry and provide protection to the students. During their ordeal, the Little Rock Nine were advised by journalist and activist Daisy Bates and for their efforts they received the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 1958. On November 9, 1999, the Little Rock Nine were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award in the United States. In 2007, the United States Mint distributed a commemorative silver dollar to “recognize and pay tribute to the strength, the determination and courage displayed by African American high school students in the fall of 1957” and in December, 2008 they were invited to attend the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. Two made for television movies have dramatized the events, the 1981 CBS movie “Crisis at Central High” and the 1993 Disney Channel movie “The Ernest Green Story.”

• September 25, 1965 Scottie Maurice Pippen, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Hamburg, Arkansas. Pippen played college basketball at the University of Central Arkansas. He was selected by the Seattle Supersonics in the 1987 NBA Draft but is best known for his time with the Chicago Bulls. Over his 17 season professional career, Pippen was a seven-time All-Star, ten-time All-Defensive Team selection, and six-time NBA champion. He was also a member of the Gold medal winning men’s basketball teams at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games and the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. He is the only person ever to twice win an NBA championship and an Olympic Gold medal in the same year. After retiring in 2004, Pippen worked as a basketball analyst for several television stations before returning to the Chicago Bulls as an ambassador for the team. He also returned to Central Arkansas to earn his bachelor’s degree. The Bulls retired Pippen’s jersey number 33 in 2005 and Central Arkansas did the same in 2010.

• September 25, 1968 Willard Christopher “Will” Smith, rapper, actor, and film producer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While still in his teens, he began rapping and collaborating with Jeff Townes and DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince was born. The combination was a hip-hop hit during the 1980s and early 1990s creating such songs as “Parents Just Don’t Understand” (1988) and “Summertime” (1991) and winning the first Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance in 1988. From 1990 to 1996, Smith starred in the television situation comedy “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Smith’s film career took off with his role in “Bad Boys” (1995) which was followed by a succession of hits, including “Independence Day” (1996), “Men in Black” (1997) and “Enemy of the State” (1998). In 2007, he produced and starred in “I Am Legend” which had the largest opening ever for a film released in December. Smith is the only actor in history to have eight consecutive films open at number 1 in the domestic box office and gross over $100 million. Other films in which Smith has produced and starred in include “Hitch” (2005), “The Pursuit of Happyness” (2006), “Hancock” (2008), and “Seven Pounds” (2008). He was also the producer for “Lakeview Terrace” (2008), “The Secret Life of Bees” (2008), “Karate Kid” (2010), and “This Means War” (2012). Smith has been nominated for four Golden Globe Awards, two Academy Awards, and has won multiple Grammy Awards.

• September 25, 1995 Annie Elizabeth “Bessie” Delany, the second African American female dentist licensed in New York State and author, died. Delany was born September 3, 1891 in Raleigh, North Carolina. She graduated from Saint Augustine’s School (now college) in 1911 and moved to New York City in 1918. In 1923, she earned her Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from the Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery, the only black female in her class. Delany was active in the community, participating in many protest marches and encouraging civil rights organizers to meet in her office. In 1993, Delany and her sister Sadie published “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years” which dealt with the trials and tribulations the sisters had faced during their century of life. In 1999, the book was made into a television movie. In 1994, the sisters published “The Delany Sisters’ Book of Everyday Wisdom.” Also that year, Columbia’s School of Dental and Oral Surgery awarded her its Distinguished Alumna Award for “her pioneering work as a minority woman in dentistry.” In 1993, Delany and her sister were included in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest authors.

• September 25, 2011 Wangari Muta Maathai, the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, died. Maathai was born April 1, 1940 in Nyeri District, Kenya. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree with a major in biology and minor in chemistry and German from Mount St. Scholastica College (now Benedictine College) in 1964 and her Master of Science degree in biological sciences from the University of Pittsburgh in 1966. In 1971, Maathai became the first East African woman to receive a Ph.D. when she was granted her Doctorate of Anatomy degree from the University College of Nairobi. She also taught at the university where she campaigned for equal benefits for women on the staff. Maathai also worked with the Kenya Red Cross Society and the Environment Liaison Centre where she came to believe that the root of most of Kenya’s problems was environmental degradation. In 1977, she led the planting of the first trees to conserve the environment in what became the Green Belt Movement. She encouraged, and paid a small stipend to, women to plant tree nurseries throughout Kenya. In 2002, she was elected to parliament and appointed assistant minister in the Ministry for Environment and Natural Resources, a position she held until 2005. On October 8, 2004, it was announced that Maathai had won the Nobel Peace Prize for her “contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace,” the first African woman and environmentalist to win the prize. In 2005, Maathai was elected the first president of the African Union’s Economic, Social and Cultural Council. Maathai published two autobiographies, “The Canopy of Hope: My Life Campaigning for Africa, Women and the Environment” (2002) and “Unbowed” (2006).

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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.